The Running Man by King, Stephen, 1982

The Running Man by King, Stephen - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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Who ever said that pulp/Golden Age SF stories died in the 1960's probably never heard of Richard Bauchman, aka Stephen King. Ive said before that I have a love/hate relationship with King. His early stories were mostly good, but his later stuff is just indecipherable. Bauchman existed in King's imagination early in his career, and wrote books from the late 1960's to the early 1980's. Running Man was on of the mid-era Bauchman stories. Its a jumbled mix of future politics and entertainment that is partially, and poorly, fused with environmentalism and maybe numerology. Two out of five stars, but worth a reread every decade or so anyway.

The film adaptation of this book, as usual with King tales, is even worse than the novel. I personally think Schwarzenegger was the wrong choice for the movie. He's just too optimistic and comical an actor to carry off the feeling of scuzzy hopelessness that King was going for in the novel. The Running Man is the story of Ben Richards, a highly intelligent pauper with a strong anti-establishment outlook. Richards lives in "Co-Op" City, which seems to be the successor to Cabrini Green in Chicago. He is unemployed and unemployable, having been black-balled by "the Union" for assaulting a supervisor at his last job. His infant daughter is ill with the flu, and he is without options for her care. His wife is a hooker and of course he hates that. In an act of desperation he goes for try-outs for the Network Games Channel, which seems to specialize in dehumanizing, humiliating and sometimes fatal games of chance that are broadcast as entertainment. He is deemed smart and healthy enough for a game called The Running Man, in which he is expected to stay alive and ahead of a gang of merciless hunters led by a man named Evan McCone. His heirs will get $100 per hour that he stays alive, but if he can stay alive for 30 days, he wins $1B "new dollars." The record to date was 8 days, 5 hours.

Most of you have seen the movie, and I suspect a lot of you have read this book before. It was a Stephen King book, and there was a great deal of marketing around the Bauchman pseudonym when King's local newspaper outed him in the mid-80's. Despite its popularity, it is a pretty poorly written book that is not quite sub-literate, but does count on anger and rage to push the action forward. "Bauchman," also apparently was a bit of a racist, and may have had a thing about blacks and Mexicans. But I suppose that is beside the point, and may even be chalked up to "atmosphere," as the rest of King's setting is pretty horrible too. Actually, even though this book and Blade Runner were both introduced to us in the same year, I have often thought that the city scenes in this book more closely approximate the images of Ridley Scott's movie, neither of which come close to what Dick described in his book Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? King's book is of a rainy, gritty city with floating cars and buses, sleazy nightclubs, an all powerful police and government by corporate board. Those images reflect strongly in Scott's film, whereas in Dick's book, the source material, the setting is more akin to a depopulated urban dust-bowl, a la 1930's Oklahoma.

But after the setting and the general premise are established, the book goes downhill fast. King starts out with a testosterone driven action piece that in short in a short time takes a left turn into anti-establishment country, complete with a callous and safety-blind tripod government made up of the Network, the police and another corporation called General Atomics. But before the half-way point though, King introduces an environmental issue that is supposed to add pathos to the downtrodden masses, but never gains enough momentum to make anyone at all care. Then again at the end it becomes a revenge piece that has a very 9/11 type conclusion. King also seems to make something big of the number 100. For example, there are 100 chapters in the book; Richards gets $100 per hour he stays alive and $100 per officer or hunter he kills; the Games Network building has 100 stories, and others. Whatever the reason, its never explained. There really is not too much to say about this book. Its fast paced and exciting and titillating, but its just a pure passtime. Pure popcorn. I keep this one in my collection because its also got The Long Walk, Rage and Roadwork in the same covers, and those books have a little more to say.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)

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