‘In the year 2025, the best men don’t run for president, they run for their lives…‘
As a way to avoid market saturation and reader fatigue, horror maestro Stephen King invented the pen name Richard Bachman at the tail-end of the 1970s. It was under this moniker that he produced Firestarter, Thinner and fan favourite The Long Walk. Perhaps the most famous Bachman work, however, mainly due to the film adaptation starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is The Running Man. And boy, if you thought the film was bleak…
Ben Richards struggles to find work in a dystopian vision of America which sees his wife Sheila having to turn tricks to buy medicine for their seriously ill baby daughter. In an act of desperation, Richards applies to appear on the titular game show The Running Man – a cruel bloodsport that involves the contestants going on the run in order to earn money for their family. Unlike the film which takes place in a futuristic arena, this incarnation of Ben Richards has the whole of America to play in.
While much of King’s work under the Bachman pseudonym is indistinguishable from his own novels, The Running Man is a lot darker and mean-spirited than his usual fare. This, combined with some clumsy social commentary and incredulous plotting means that The Running Man is only for King completists. That being said, I absolutely love Paul Michael Glaser’s film adaptation, and this novella does work as a solid companion piece to that slice of ’80s nostalgia. The difference is that there are no WWF-style combatants here, and no snarky one-liners. Instead, we are presented with a grim vision of a world falling apart.
The Running Man is not really an enjoyable reading experience. It’s too dark for that. But as the novel races to its explosive conclusion, I must admit that I was hooked, and Richards himself is undoubtedly an intoxicating character. Fans of the film or King completists will lap this up. Everyone else can skip it.