“The Running Man” by Stephen King

Would you risk your own life to make sure your daughter survives? Here's my The Running Man review.

I read The Running Man well over two years ago, so it’s about time I sat down and wrote a proper review. It was the third book I read in my ongoing A Book A Month effort, and I gave it a handsome 4 out of 5 score back then.

The Running Man is one of well-known author Stephen King’s first novels. Originally published in 1982 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, the novel is set in America in 2025. That was the far away future for King at the time, but it’s the very near future for us now. Fortunately, the world is (probably) in better shape in 2025 than King imagined it.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The world’s economy has gone to shit, and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. The air is severely polluted, and the world’s poor has become a permanent underclass. The masses are pacified and distracted by government controlled, televised violent game shows.

The most popular of these shows is The Running Man. The contestants are declared enemies of the state, and chased by Hunters, hitmen employed by the TV network. For every hour the contestants manage to stay alive and avoid capture, they earn $100. For every Hunter or law enforcement officer they kill, they earn an additional $100. If the contestants survive for 30 days, they win the grand price of $1 billion dollars. To up the ante, viewers can receive cash rewards for information about the contestant’s location.

Ben Richards’ daughter is gravely ill, and the family lacks money for her medication. As a last resort, he turns to the television network. After physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on The Running Man.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the loosely based movie adaption of The Running Man.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the loosely based movie adaption of The Running Man.

Poof, You’re Done!

Stephen King wrote The Running Man in a single week, and you’ll finish it in a single day. But that doesn’t make it a bad book - far from it. The novel is an easy, fast-paced read, just the way I normally like them. There’s never a dull moment, and there’s a good chance you’d end up reading The Running Man from start to finish without putting the book down.

The Running Man reads as a massive critique of media’s power to distract and pacify people. And in particular through the use of reality television. That’s interesting, since the genre didn’t explode until the late 1990s and early 2000s, long after King wrote the book. Shows like Big Brother and Survivor paved the way for a genre that is getting more and more ludicrous by the year. Back in 2016, no other than Ben Affleck and Matt Damon produced a reality show titled The Runner. The show is based on The Running Man, but the contestants are only capture -not killed.

After you’ve finished the book, you might be tempted to watch the movie with the same title starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards. If you do, be aware that the movie is only loosely based on the novel. Schwarzenegger also portrays the character very differently than he is described in the book. Stephen King has said that Richards (in the book) is “as far away from the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the movie as you can get.”


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