One of my goals for 2018 was to finally read a book by Stephen King and I can officially cross that off my list! The only other King book I’d read was 11/22/63, and I know that’s very different than his most famous books. I’m not super into horror though and I also do not have time to read a thousand page book, so sorry It and Sleeping Beauties and all that jazz. I considered Misery, but I’d seen the movie and worried I wouldn’t enjoy the book as much then. Then, I stumbled across The Running Man, a kind of dystopian thriller that King wrote in the 80s under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman, and I’m glad that was my final pick!
The Running Man was written in 1982 but takes place in 2025. The world is dang-on polluted like hell and people like Ben Richards, the protagonist, are living in destitute poverty. He and his wife, Sheila, and their daughter Cathy desperately need some money because Cathy is dying from the flu. Richards is unemployed and Sheila is a prostitute to cover their expenses. But there is an option: the games. The games network is a sort of national entertainment franchise that broadcasts these pretty awful games for everyone to watch. One of them involves having very ill people run on a treadmill until they nearly die, earning money for every minute they survive. Another one is The Running Man, and that’s where Ben Richards comes in. The Running Man is a televised manhunt, and Ben Richards is the prey. He’ll be given a head start, but then he’s on his own. There are specialized hunters out to get him, but the public is also in on it. They have been told that Ben Richards is a monster who must be stopped, and they’ll get a nice reward if they spot him or turn him in. No one survives the Running Man, but Ben Richards isn’t just anyone. He’s got one thing to live for, and he’s going to take you on an adventure as he tries to stay alive.
I started this book on audio but couldn’t get into it. The chapters are really short which is great for physical copies but kind of frustrating for audiobooks that keep interrupting every three minutes to give you a chapter title, which in this case is a countdown from 100. When I finally switched to the paperback, around 170 pages in, I really flew through this. Ben Richards is such an interesting character, someone you want to root for but also are weirdly intrigued by because you know he could be capable of anything at the drop of a hat. The other characters you get to spend a minute for, and it really is only a minute, are interesting and very clearly drawn, but they’re gone so quickly it’s like you barely knew them at all. The only character I feel like I spent that much time with was Amelia, but I won’t get into that here. All I’m saying is that she was also an enigma to unlock but I was happy with her story resolution.
As you unravel the truth about the world, as Ben unravels it as well, it’s a really interesting version of a dystopian that feels really timely to have been written in 1982. There’s an environmental factor and a kind of discourse about screen addiction and while this isn’t exactly the kind of novel that breeds deep dives into what King MEANT by those themes, they still make the world feel fleshed out and kind of make the ending even more satisfying. And I did think the ending was satisfying. I saw it coming as soon as that leg of the journey began, over a hundred pages before the end of the book, but I think it was really the ONLY way it could end, so I was pleased.
I’m glad I can finally tick this goal off my list and recommend The Running Man for people looking for an intro to King that don’t love horror or that like dystopian novels!