The Running Man

The Running Man Book Cover The Running Man
Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Horror
Signet
May 1, 1982
Paperback
219

The Running Man is set within a dystopian future in which the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings. The protagonist of The Running Man, Ben Richards, is quick to realize this as he watches his daughter, Cathy, grow more sick by the day and tread closer and closer to death. Desperate for money to pay Cathy’s medical bills, Ben enlists himself in a true reality style game show where the objective is to merely stay alive.

 

The Running Man, yet another Stephen King book taking place in a dystopian future. Dystopias have really gotten more popular since The Hunger Games. And even more so thanks to shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror. But back before they had really gone mainstream (mostly), you had stories like this. There is basically just one concrete rule of a dystopia: everything sucks. Not in the same fashion as a post-apocalypse setting like Mad Max, but still awful. Some organization, usually the government or a mega-corporation, has taken over. Things are amazing if you’re one of the 0.001% of people at the top and suck for everyone else.

In this variation, game shows are used by the ruling class’ to keep the poor distracted in line. And considering reality TV was not a thing yet when The Running Man came out, this idea was ahead of its time. Game shows were certainly popular back then though, so tit for tat. Now, we get this average Joe named Ben Richards competing in a game that is designed to be unwinnable because that is the only way to save his daughter’s life. If there is a more solid premise to set up a “man vs. society” story, I have yet to find it.

As the reader, you are clearly rooting for Richards. But as you get deeper in, it becomes more apparent how much the deck is stacked against him. At one point, he’s even straight-up told that by the people who made this “game”. But just because the Grim Reaper is going to catch you eventually doesn’t mean you can’t make the bastard work for it. Richards’ cautionary tale shows that he is a normal man, but also a clever one.

And on that note, I have to mention the movie adaption of The Running Man. This is one of those films that is the same as the book in name only. The book portrays Richards as clever and street smart, doing well enough in the game to make society’s evil overlords look bad. He starts to give the common people real hope and that makes him a threat. The film is a 1980’s movie that casts Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead. That should really tell you everything you need to know about it. Some of the themes are persistent, but that is the only thing that stays the same beyond character names.

So, in summary, The Running Man is a short, entertaining story featuring a brave man and a cautionary tale. And go watch the movie if you like 1980s action flicks.

 

Side note: Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow for a special giveaway announcement, featuring 17 YA books and an Amazon Kindle Fire 7!

August 2, 2020

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