Sunday, 8 March 2020

The Running Man

1983 NEL UK Edition
Author: Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)
First Published: 1982
File size/Pages: 978KB (Omnibus) / 317pp (Individual)
Ebook Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Ebook Date: March 2010 (Omnibus)

I wonder how some publishers had the cheek to put covers like the one highlighted here for Richard Bachman's, The Running Man. Its a total missrepresentation. At no point in the book does anyone approach anything near to dressing up like an extra from the 1975 film Rollerball...and the cover is too early to tie into the 1987 film version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, so what gives?

However, putting that to one side the book is the fourth and last published novel that Stephen King issued using this pen-name before he was 'outed' as Richard Bachman with the release of Thinner.

King has quoted (and has written in various introductions) that he wrote the entire novel in a single week. In some ways this is an amazing achievement - and in others its a shame because you can tell when you read The Running Man. Its much the inferior novel to the other Bachman book I reviewed recently, The Long Walk.

The premise of the novel is, in a similar vein to The Long Walk, quite simple. Ben Richards, husband and father with a sick child, out of work and suffering poverty with the masses in a dystopian future America of 2025 (scary though that its not that far away), decides to try to enter the Games Network, a government-operated television station that is responsible for free-to-air "Free-Vee" violent game shows. The most notorious of which is "The Running Man". In this show the contestants are presented as crazed citizens and enemies of the state; they are to be hunted down and killed by the Games Networks security forces. All of this with the help of the general public - who are actively encouraged to assist in the contestants capture and public execution with the promise of lucrative rewards should they bear fruit.

With everyone in the country (and the world wide television audience) willing to take part in the hunt themselves, it leaves the person 'running' with nowhere to turn for help. Contestants are released into the city and expected to fend for themsleves. To safeguard against an early death, two players are released at the same time, with a third kept in reserve. After rigorous tests, Richards is chosen as the main attraction for the upcoming show. His reward, is an advance of money to be used in his attempt to outwit his pursuers, $100 per hour he remains alive, $100 bonus payments gained by killing any law enforcement officers that are hunting him and a grand prize of $1 billion if he survives the full 30 days of the shows run.

1982 Signet Edition
Richards has entered the competition with the express purpose of collecting enough money to be able to pay for medication for his yound daughter. He doesn't expect to last the full 30 days, but will try his best, as long as he can get enough to support his family.

With such a promising premise, I was surprisingly dissapointed wth the novel. It begins fairly well, but immediately I was struck by a style to the writing that didn't sit well. A sort of fractured narrative third person point of view. This is soon abandoned and the story centres on Richards going through the selection process at the Games Networks adminstration tower. The sequence of him undergoing the testing process was interesting, setting up Richards to be a rather anti-establishment figure. But once the actual 'show' begins and Richards embarks upon his 12 hour head-start before the Hunters are allowed to begin thier search it got quite boring quite quickly. Even when the hunt begins in earnest, the reader is never (like the Richards character) aware of what is going on in the background to locate him. His movements from one location to another due to his paranoia, was just a bit bland and unengaging.

The characters that Richards encounters, those that help him and those that hinder him, also don't impress as much as characters in other King novels - they don't pop out of the page like his better books.

Thankfully, the final quarter of the novel picks up the action and injects some much needed pace. When the lead Hunter, McCone, is introduced there is at least someone for us to pitch the hero against. It isn't quite enough by this time though, and even with the addition of a countdown in the form of chapter titles throughout the book of "Minus 50 and counting" etc. the bok never really gripped me in the way I think it was supposed to. To be fair there is a revelation towards the climax of the story that I hadn't seen coming - kudos for that.

Overall, a bit of a let down after The Long Walk, with a large chunk in the middle section that fell flat.

I read this as part of an Omnibus edition. You can also get The Running Man as a seperate eBook, currently priced at £6.99 on Amazon UK. I'd suggest getting the Omnibus if you really want to experience King's Bachman books.