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Richard Matheson
Tor, 223 pages

Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson was born in New Jersey in 1926 and has lived and worked in California since 1951. In addition to novels in the mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy, and western field, he's also done many film and television scripts including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from The Twilight Zone. He also wrote episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel, Night Gallery, and Star Trek. Several of his novels and stories have been made into movies including The Shrinking Man, I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come (the film starred Robin Williams). His awards include the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Bram Stoker Award for Life Achievement, the Hugo Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Golden Spur Award, and the Writer's Guild Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Shrinking Man
SF Site Review: Duel
SF Site Review: I Am Legend

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

If you are in a hurry and don't want to read the review that follows, I can sum it up in two sentences: There is a reason this book was originally published under a pseudonym and several years passed before it was published under the author's real name. That reason is that it is bad, and a poor addition to Richard Matheson's impressive legacy to boot. If you enjoyed Matheson's other works, such as I Am Legend or The Shrinking Man and haven't gotten around to this novel yet (perhaps because of the dour comments on it in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy) then you haven't been missing anything. Earthbound is unoriginal, heavy-handedly moralistic to the point of appearing a stereotype of the genre, and more dated than either of the aforementioned Matheson works despite being younger than them by nearly thirty years. Billed on its cover, in its original capitalization, as "an Erotic Ghost Story by the author of Hell House and Stir of Echoes," it is neither erotic nor scary.

In Earthbound, David Cooper, with his wife Ellen, have come to an isolated seaside cottage near the one where they spent their honeymoon; they hope to repair the damage done to their marriage by David's recent infidelities. Almost immediately, things start going wrong on their vacation as David discovers that the dilapidated cottage is haunted by the spirit of Marianna, a dead girl whose evil, lust-filled ways have doomed her to becoming trapped on earth and confined to the house where she sinned. Literally unable to control his male sexual urges, David again cheats on his wife with the spirit and ignores the warnings of the mysterious, rich heiress on the hill who tries to send the couple away to safety. As he grows deeper in his carnal knowledge of the ghost, their dalliances begin to literally sap away at his health and energy but he is powerless to stop himself.

The ghostly affair continues until things go from bad to worse -- especially for readers tired of good girl/bad girl clichés -- when Ellen is possessed by Marianna and begins acting like her; the behavior he found so pleasing in his undead liaison is literally horrifying to him in his wife: "He'd never, in his life, seen a woman making love to herself, least of all his own wife. The sight unnerved and frightened him even though he was unable to suppress a tremor of distorted excitation." Fortunately, our hero hurls himself and his wife through the window of the cottage, an act which places them out of reach of Marianna's powers. Waking up predictably in the hospital, he realizes "now he had to discipline the beast [his sex drive] -- which would not be simple because it had become accustomed to its license... it was his aspiration now to permanently encage that animal within his mind." Happily for members of the moral majority everywhere, David has learned that sex outside of a loving marriage is wrong because "anything less was, to varying degrees, mutual and self destruction." Their passion is rekindled, though David vaguely mentions "there would probably be backslidings," as if excusing himself in advance for whatever indulgences his uncontrollable sexual urges cause.

Horror as a genre is sometimes accused of having repressive attitudes towards gender and sexuality, and it is sad to see such a sterling example in the work of a master. Although other work by Matheson, such as "The Shrinking Man," certainly deal with sexuality and even reflect the prevailing attitudes of the era in which they were written, I can't help but feel that those stories do so with far greater sensitivity and awareness then Earthbound; whereas those stories placed the character's attitudes and ideals under a microscope, this one instead places them in a Norman Rockwell painting. While this will appeal to a certain segment of the horror readership, it certainly alienated this reviewer.

Copyright © 2005 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer and bookseller from Austin, TX who enjoys seducing authors for their souls in his spare time. You can read about his spine-chilling exploits at

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