The Running Man (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a high-octane and decidedly adult version of The Hunger Games

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The Running Man

By Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

It’s the year 2025, and the bloodshot eyes of the U.S. are glued to screens…

If there is one book genre that I actively avoid, it’s horror. I’ve never read a Stephen King novel in my life. TOO SCARY.

But, when I stumbled across this thriller written under his pen name for Signet, I thought…okay, I can probably do it.

Stephen King is skilled and prolific. I wanted to read him, and this seemed like my best shot of not being scarred for life.

This book was published the year I was born, and it portrays the year 2025—next year, at the time of this review.

In King’s dystopia, the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” in the U.S. has grown into a chasm. Every home is required by law to contain (get this) a Free-Vee. (I have a similarly named app on my television.) Programming is dominated by reality TV—game shows in which people compete in all manner of deadly games in hopes of winning prize money. Contestants are largely comprised of the have-nots.

Our protagonist, Richard, is one such contestant, driven to apply for TV so that he can earn money to buy real medicine for his baby, who is sick with the flu.

Because he’s smart, Richard gets picked for the highest-rated show on TV, The Running Man. Here’s the game: Richard runs for his life, and Hunters try to kill him. He earns money for every hour he stays alive. Stay alive for 30 days, and you win. Nobody has lasted more than eight days.

Sound like the Hunger Games? Yep.

The ending is hauntingly reminiscent of something that ended up happening in real life nearly 20 years after this book rolled off the press.

It’s crazy how many of King’s presentiments have come to pass. The book’s government is irreparably corrupt, and the networks are out for nothing but profit. Today, don’t we feel the same way about Washington and Silicon Valley? People are doping themselves to avoid reality—with entertainment and pot, whatever you can afford. Sound familiar? Everything from the air to the food is polluted. Uncanny.

Content warnings: The entire book is a content warning. There’s foul/offensive language with no filters whatsoever. The book mentions every vice you can imagine, although there’s comparatively little that’s graphically portrayed on the page. There’s no horror, just thrills. Clean? No way. But King knows his Bible, and there are references sprinkled throughout, so there’s that.

3.9

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