I think if I'd read The Running Man
around the time of publication, I'd have completely missed King's voice in it. Of all the Bachman books I've read thus far, this one is probably the least like King's usual works for a number of reasons. There are definitely echoes of The Long Walk
here, but a lot of the introspective examinations of the human condition are missing from The Running Man
. In no way does that make it any less of a powerhouse. For early King, I was surprised by how enveloping the story was. I wasn't a huge fan of the format or the narration of Carrie
and a lot of the earlier King works just don't have an immersive flair for me. All that is, except this little gem. The pacing is taught and it winds up to its dramatic conclusion very quickly. The countdown of the chapters lends an ominous tone to the progression of the narration without feeling overly gimmicky.
What's remarkable about this novel is its prescience. Sure by 1982 King had a wealth of dystopian fiction to draw upon for influence. The indelible mark of Bradbury and Orwell's visions of the omnipresence of media as a soporific to the masses is almost inescapable in its inclusion in any later totalitarian-esque novel. Along with The Long Walk
, however, King fully anticipates reality television shows like Survivor, which I found pretty uncomfortable. Reading the novel in the beginning of the 21st century is almsot enough to send chills down your spine. Environmentalism is another unsurprising component, being a product of the late 70s, but again, the timeliness of the message today is prescient as well. (So is the conclusion, but I won't ruin it for you).
Missing here is the depth you come to expect from King characters. Sure Ben is a good guy at heart who's life is rather complicated and composed of compromises of circumstance that put just enough tension in him to make him interesting. The focus however, is clearly on the derivation of the plot. How will Richard's escape this clever trap? Where will he go next? What's he going to do if he can make it the whole month? The reader feels remarkably like those saps sitting in front of their free-vees just waiting for the train-wreck to unfold. It's definitely a page-turner and fun in the way that old sci-fi from the classic age is with less focus on the sciency aspects and more so place on the imagination. The Running Man
is a perfectly good "what if...." novel for a rainy day.