Thursday 25 August 2011

Devouring Stephen King (as Richard Bachman): The Running Man

Ah, the Bachman mask. A great way for Stephen King to let out the thriller side of his writing personality, and The Running Man is a pretty good one. It's not my favourite of the Bachman books I've read so far (that would be Roadwork) but I thought it was a pretty original idea, well executed, and in parts reminded me of 1984 (although, not quite that good...)

The Running Man is your basic dystopia- a horrifying world where the poor are extremely poor, the rich are extremely afraid, and the most entertaining entertainment is game shows where the extremely poor take part in programmes that risk their lives to scrounge together a few dollars just so they can keep on living. The most extreme of these game shows is The Running Man, a show where a man is hunted to the death, unless he lasts 30 days on the run, in which case he gets a billion dollars. The odds are largely stacked in favour of the network, the evil overlords and masterminds of The Running Man, but our hero, Ben Richards, is largely resourceful, and very very desperate.

There are a lot of action-y moments in this novel that I wasn't too interested in- things like fast car chases and hijackings, things like that; but more interesting, I found, were the areas of social injustice that King chose to focus on. These were injustices that were not only dystopian in nature, but actually also provided a pretty accurate view of how societies have existed for quite a long time (or at least, I'm sorry to say, since the invention of America, but probably before that anyway) in that, by making the rich afraid of the poor so that they have no inclination to help them, and generally blame them for the (comparatively) minor problems that exist in their lives. This is how a programme like The Running Man is able to exist in this society, especially as the game is skewed wildly in favour of the Network's motives- Richards is presented as a wild man, practically as someone who eats babies, while his poor wife is (unforgivably, in his eyes) presented as a slovenly slattern. With the evil Network overlords controlling everything, nobody really stands a chance- as is made perfectly clear by "The Games emblem (the silhouette of a human head superimposed over a torch)." How the rich people, who seem to be relatively sane-ish let this happen to other human beings is anyone's guess, but in a world that allows countless genocides to happen, and used to condone slavery, it's difficult to criticise dystopias for being unrealistic in this sense.

So, yeah, I did like The Running Man for its political aspects, but it was much harder to love all the action sequences. This is something I don't especially enjoy even in films, so reading them is even harder, especially because I don't have a good visual basis for such things. If this is something you enjoy, then this book will definitely exhilarate you, but I wasn't so keen, and could have done with a lot more of the characters sitting around talking, and philosophising, and revealing the utter shittiness of a world that leaves children to die, while a few people get more and more power. But then, I guess, it wouldn't be called The Running Man anymore... But The Sitting Around and Talking Guys is a much better title anyway, right? What I did find fascinating was how the people in the positions of greatest power were those involved with television- it's something King has touched on before, including, I think, in Danse Macabre, but I really don't think the dude likes TV very much- he seems to see it as a brainwashing device, even to a mild extent, which is taken to quite impressive extremes in this story.

So, to sum up The Running Man: political ideologies and a desire to bring down the man=good. Constant action sequences that I can't really keep up with=not so good. To be perfectly fair, though, another reader might have the complete opposite reaction to me, so it's almost worth reading just as a 'what kind of reader are you?' test! But seriously, it's fast paced, pretty exciting, and interesting to boot- what more could you ask for from a Stephen King book? Go and read it, but not necessarily as your first Bachman book.

Coming up next, and I couldn't be more excited, is the first in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger. I remember not necessarily loving it all that much when I read it last time, but I am still so excited because it means the start of The Dark Tower series, and also I love its main character, so there you go. You'll see in a little while what I mean when I say I love him...


  1. I kind of like his Bachman novels. I kind of like the action parts since they're so different than the novels he writes under his own name. As a general rule I like when authors write under other names. The exception being Anne Rice's Beauty series.

  2. The only Richard Bachman book I have read is Blaze. Though it is just a trunk novel, I liked reading King write something other than horror. That is also why On Writing is one of my favourite Stephen King books! He is a great writer, shouldn't be limited to one genre! I like your detailed review, I am definitely going to read this book!