Review: The Running Man
Monday, October 21, 2019

The Running ManThe Running Man by Richard Bachman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

In some ways this book felt like a precursor to Ready Player One. We've got a nobody character with the odds stacked against him trying to avoid being snuffed out by a soulless corporate entity. In both books the protagonist is in a race to earn a fortune, and in both cases there is a desperate despair to the state of the world. The Running Man was a quick read full of tension and social commentary. Be forewarned however that racism and misogyny abound.

Character & Voice:
The main character is a man named Ben Richards. He's unemployed, his wife prostitutes herself for cash, and their infant daughter is sick with the flu. Desperate, he agrees to run for his life for 30 days as part of a game show in exchange for money for his family. The longer he stays alive, the more money his family gets. Richards' personality and plight are easy to empathize with. He lives in despair, but hasn't let it break him. He's a fighter.
The narration of the story is from an omniscient viewpoint, but the tone is gritty, crude, cynical, like Richards himself.

Language & Mechanics:
The overall writing of this book was excellent. While I did come across a number of typos, the flow of the story was enough to keep me reading. King did a great job keeping tension on the page, even when there wasn't much happening in the plot.
Language is a bit of an issue in this book.
I think it's important to read books through the lens of the time frame in which they were written. In this case, the book was first published in 1982. As such, misogyny and racial epithets occur with high frequency. If you are easily offended by mention of racism or gender inequality you might not enjoy this story.
There were also some very peculiar turns of phrase that were hard for me to follow, such as a person's face becoming "Chinese with disappointment." Personally, I have no idea what that means, and there were several other such descriptions that were equally mysterious to me, many involving some kind of racial remark.

World Building:
Ben Richards' world is a terrible future version of our own. Air pollution is out of control to the point where if you don't have an air filter at all times you're going to get sick. Poverty runs rampant, though there is of course still the 1%--the privileged few. Most people zone out in front of the Free-Vees to forget about their shitty lives, and the programs on those Free-Vees are extreme survival games in which people desperate for cash risk their lives for a paycheck. The game Richards is chosen for, Running Man, has a 100% death rate. The game is rigged so no one survives.
King did a great job portraying the desperation of the lower class citizens and the dangers of media brainwashing where those who control the Network control people's perceptions. (Because the book was written before on-demand streaming became a reality, it is set in a world where the population has no control over the constant bombardment of the media. The Free-Vees play what they play, people can only control whether they are on or off.)

Parting Thoughts:
While I enjoyed the majority of this story, the ending felt a little anti-climactic to me. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say the tension King had built up through the story fell flat at the end.

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