With a daughter in urgent need of medical attention and a wife whose only means of keeping food on the table is to work on the streets, Ben Richards turns to ultra-violent TV game show, The Running Man. Making it through a variety of tests to the show itself, Richards must stay alive for a month, all the while being pursued by a crack team of hunters.
The book centres on a worker from a hard-done-by community where one of the few means of escaping poverty is to enter one of the national Free-Vee game shows. Faced with a series of difficult decisions, Richards must stay ahead of the hunters for thirty days if he is to secure the Grand Prize and his family’s future.
Written under his short-term pseudonym Richard Bachman, Stephen King claims to have knocked this one out in a week. While not unusual for him (he also wrote Cujo to a similar time-scale), the energy and enthusiasm King had at the time does come over in the book. It’s also worth noting that the movie version (featuring Arne Schwarzenegger), bears no resemblance to the novel, apart from the title and the characters of Ben Richards and Killian.
The writing is certainly not of the quality of King’s more recent novels, but the characters are fascinating and well-matched to their different environments. Set in a dystopian future of 2025, there are some interesting commentaries on our current situation, not least in terms of TV and the increasing appetite of the public for ever-more humiliating and demeaning game shows.
It’s a pretty bleak tale, and though not one of my favourites, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read.