I read "I Am Legend" and "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in 2005, and I knew that Matheson was an older writer, but the stories still seemed so current and relevant, like they were just written last year. So I was stunned to learn that "I Am Legend" was published in 1954, and "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in 1956!
Some of the content...well, it's taboo now, so I can only imagine the reaction it got when it was first published. A grown man lusting after a 16-year-old-girl, while admitting that she wasn't really that good looking. This is the stuff from "edgy" movies like "American Beauty," and Matheson is doing it more than 40 years before that movie came out. Stephen King credits him as one of his early influences, and I definetly see a similarity in their writing styles. I believe that Matheson outshines King, though, in the way that he writes simple stories and relateable characters.
It is so amazing to me that I was so easily drawn to a story that was written nearly 30 years before I was born. That is perhaps the best compliment I can pay to Matheson's writing: it is timeless. Someone could read his work in 1954 and enjoy it, or read it more than 50 years later and find the same (if not greater) appreciation. The way he makes the reader identify with the characters is almost heartbreaking. Richard Matheson may be the best writer of the 20th century, and is most definitely the best suspense/horror writer of the last 75 years.