The Running Man – Stephen King (Richard Bachman)
The Running Man was first published in 1982 by Stephen King – but writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I have to admit, this is only the second Stephen King novel I have read – the first was 11/22/63 which was a massive, complicated yet enthralling text. Naively I thought that all Stephen King novels would be similar so when I ordered this one off Amazon I was surprised to see what a slim volume it was. When I got tucked up in bed one evening and prepared to read it, I wasn’t expecting a reading marathon – yet I was wholly engrossed in the story and it was so easy to read I finished it in two hours!
Set in a dystopian America, the scene this novel paints is bleak. The world’s economy is in free-fall, there is no job security or indeed employment rights– we see how workers in menial jobs work in dangerous conditions, which result in severe injuries or even death. These conditions have created a large population of people living in poverty – unable to afford even proper food they live off supplement pills, and we see the main character’s wife resort to prostitution in order to pay for basic medical care. Bizarrely the only things that seem to be cheap and available to everyone are television, cigarettes and marijuana.
Living in these slum conditions is Ben Richards, who is currently unemployed and black listed from his relevant trade. We discover that this is because he refused to carry on working without adequate protection from the radiation he worked with that left many workers infertile, he refused to continue taking that risk knowing that his wife desperately longed for children. Now, having been sacked from his job, his eighteen month old daughter is sick with pneumonia and Richards is unwilling for his wife to continue prostituting herself in order to pay for medical care. In desperation Richards enters The Game Centre – a television station which runs twenty-four hours a day. It specialises in violent, unethical reality television programmes. One example which Richards narrates is a programme in which people with a heart problem are put onto a treadmill and rewarded with cash sums; earning more money for the longer they stay on it – for their medical bills. Inevitably many of these contestants collapse and/or die.
After vigorous medical as well as psychological testing Richards discovers he has been chosen to take part in one of the Game Centre’s most extreme games. He is to be let loose in the city and given a head start before being tracked down by a group of savage Hunters, who aim to kill him. Richards is sent on his way with some cash in his pocket, a camera and videotapes, which he is to use to make twice daily recordings which are then televised. His family receive money for every hour that he lives and if he manages to evade his pursuers for thirty days he gets set free and a jackpot of $1 billion. The current record holder for the games lasted only eight days. Armed with this knowledge Richards is released and the hunt begins…
Ok, I won’t give away what happens; suffice to say that it is a fast paced chase with sufficient twists to keep it interesting. This book wasn’t what I was expecting at all – I was looking forward to some more of the Stephen King I had already experienced – a large knotty story to get your teeth into. Instead this was incredibly easy reading with just enough of a dystopian theme to satisfy me. I woke up the morning after feeling a bit cheated that the book had passed by so quickly (does anyone else get that feeling?) but sitting down to type up my thoughts made me realise just how much I enjoyed it. So if you are looking for a novel you can easily get caught up in for a few hours without having too much of a “fluffy” read, this is the one for you!