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Book Review: The Running Many by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) (4/5)

25 Oct

A friend recommended this to me on a whim years ago and I dutifully put it on my TBR. I’d gotten it via ILL at the library once but never cracked it open. Recently, I realized I had Google Play credit that was going to expire so I needed to use it and buying an audiobook seemed like a good plan. I was happy to find this one and finally get into this novel!


Cover image via Amazon

The Running Man by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Summary from Amazon:

It was the ultimate death game in a nightmare future America. The year is 2025 and reality TV has grown to the point where people are willing to wager their lives for a chance at a billion-dollar jackpot. Ben Richards is desperate—he needs money to treat his daughter’s illness. His last chance is entering a game show called The Running Man where the goal is to avoid capture by Hunters who are employed to kill him. Surviving this month-long chase is another issue when everyone else on the planet is watching—and willing to turn him in for the reward.

Each night all Americans tune in to watch. So far, the record for survival is only eight days. Can Ben Richards beat the brutal odds, beat the rigged game, beat the entire savage system? He’s betting his life that he can…

Before anyone looks it up, this was first published in 1982 so the 2025 setting wasn’t as imminent as it seems reading it today. I liked hearing the fake ‘history’ that Richards had lived through to get to the 2025 this novel presents. Some of this didn’t seem too dystopian, sadly. The racism and police brutality struck home particularly strongly. The comments about pollution and health care costs weren’t out of line at all. The disregard for human life was the only part that seemed to have been a bad prediction and taken Ben Richards and his world in a divergent path from ours. Though, in all honesty, reality TV shows like Survivor aren’t too different from this idea. Of course, I found myself sympathizing with Richards. He’s trying to help his family and makes the ultimate sacrifice by putting his life in someone else’s hands. The fear he lives with the rest of the novel felt very real and I thought King did a great job of giving us a version of The Most Dangerous Game in a commercial setting. I’m lucky that I read through reviews of this audiobook before I started it. One mentioned that the book’s ending was in the forward (which it 100% was) so I listed to that after finishing the novel.

The brainwashing of many of the characters was scarily realistic. I think we’ve all known someone who believed something they heard on television and didn’t question the sources or motivation. The people of Ben’s world had take this to an extreme where a Network was more powerful than the government. I was impressed with how King extrapolated the world he lived in around 1980 and made some solid predictions of what 2025 would look like.

Amelia was my favorite character. She was the only person besides Richards who had her perspective changed. When she realized the real motivation of the Network and the lengths they would go to, she started to question what she ‘knew.’ Most of the other characters were already aware of what was happening or refused to bend, but she was the most dynamic and for that reason, the most interesting character to me.

I think there’s a little bit of Ben that everyone can relate to. He wanted to help his family and felt powerless to do what he wanted to. I think we’ve all felt those feelings at one time or another. He couldn’t find a job because of a way he’d been branded and perceived but did what he could do provide and survive. In many way’s he’s the ‘every man’ of his world.


Stephen King Image via the author’s website

The final scenes on the airplane were my favorite. (Trying to be spoiler free here!) I thought he kept his wits about him well and was smart about what he revealed and how he took action. He was very logical, thinking through the motivation of the Network and leveraging what he could to be in control. The very ending was a little hard to read due to some historical events that took place between this book being published and today that made them hit in a different way. (Was that vague enough? I hope so.)

There wasn’t a part of this book I particularly disliked. It had good pacing and kept me wanting to hear more. I think the only part that confused me was the chapter titles counting down. I wondered if it was hours, minutes, days, or something else. In the end, I never figured it out.

The audiobook was narrated by Kevin Kenerly. I thought he was a good pick for this book. He gave good weight to Richards’ plight and the voices he did for all the characters didn’t seem overdone. Sometimes I have an issue with the voices male narrators use for female characters but I didn’t have that issue with Kenerly.

The future Bachman describes is one where pain and suffering are flipped to entertain others. Richards knows that the only way for him to get money for his sick daughter’s treatment is by putting his own health on the line for the entertainment of the faceless masses. This world has so much divide between the rich and poor that the lives of the poor have come to be meaningless to society and their demise has become a set of games. We’re scarily close to this in many respects and it can be seen as a futuristic warning about where our society could go.

Writer’s Takeaway: Bachman’s pacing in this book was great. Richards was always running, as the name implies. When he was still, Bachman still kept the tension high and I think that felt very realistic. Keeping tension can be a difficult thing to do in a novel and the premise Bachman uses here makes it absolutely critical that he nail it and he did.

An enjoyable read, though a little out of my comfort zone. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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