So, to continue my spate of science fiction I decided to read The Running Man by Stephen King/Richard Bachmann (I am not sure why it is considered science fiction, but that is the genre it is filed under). But despite it’s somewhat weird categorization, the book is remarkably poignant for our time, and raises some interesting ethical considerations.
Published under the pseudonym Richard Bachmann, The Running Man is a story set in a dystopian future. It is America in 2025, both America and the world at large have experienced devastating recessions, and America’s legendary inequality is worse than ever. Corporations have extraordinary power and the regular people have almost no worth. This is especially true when it comes to the ‘Games Network’, a TV network that broadcasts violent and demeaning reality shows, with death and mutilation playing a central role in the entertainment value of the shows. Within this context we meet Ben Richards. Due to a bad attitude Richards has been blacklisted from his profession and has been out of work for a long time. His daughter is dying from pneumonia, and his wife has had to resort to prostitution to pay for her medical bills and to put food on the table. Well, past the point hope, and in desperate need of money, Richards goes down to the Games Network and becomes a contestant on ‘The Running Man’. The Games Network flagship show, The Running Man, is a televised contest between a fugitive and the police/bounty hunters. Richards is let loose and must evade both the police and hitmen for as long as possible. Richards receives $100 for every hour he stays alive and free, and receives $100 for every police officer that he kills, but the audience also has an opportunity to earn money if they help in his apprehension. If Richards survives for 30 days, he will win $1 billion.
So, as I noted, the story raises interesting ethical considerations throughout. Obviously there is the issue of the games network in general; where heart patients are paid to run on a treadmill and the police are encouraged to hunt down an innocent man. Something I noticed throughout is that the police officers are given little attention to appreciation throughout the novel, despite being killed left and right. Only once are they recognized as real people trying to do their jobs rather than cheap pawns in the Game Network’s giant chess game. But King also looks at the animosity that can be generated between classes and races through TV manipulation. While King portrays Richards as a victim, as a good dad trying to do anything to help his kid, he is essentially seen by others in the story as lazy/violent/psychopath/drug addict purely because of where he comes from (the wrong side of town). While obviously an oversimplification and exaggeration, the way the public are manipulated into hating Richards is awfully similar to some current reality TV shows.
All in all this is a good book. The final chapters peter into the somewhat ridiculous actionwise -as if King didn’t quite know where he was going and did it on the fly. But this does not ruin the overall effect. It was a book I couldn’t put down, and a book I have been thinking about long after I finished it. It raises interesting questions, and I can see it’s influence in a few books and movies I have seen recently (noticeably Death Race and the Hunger Games). Much recommended.
Title: The Running Man
Author: Stephen King/Richard Bachman
Pages: 336 (Paperback)
Josh’s Rating: 3/5
Amazon Link: The Running Man