The Great Race: My Review of The Running Man

Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.

Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass

Or did Barry Allen make an ill-advised trip, and travel back in time, so now that we have a paradox on our hands, so to speak?

(Not to be confused with our beloved Earth 2, where science accelerates at a rapid rate, and villains are the mayors of cities and heroes are well…kinda douchebags, actually.)

Maybe I traveled into an alternate reality, where Superman is the adopted son of undocumented migrant workers, and has a really, really close relationship with Zod, and Batman is literally backwards, and kind of sucks…

Well, actually no.

Not that I am knocking on any of the above, and wouldn’t be open to a little possible experimentation…

Although I could argue that Barry Allen and his ill-advised time travel has had some kind of effect on my reality…

After all, the Cubs are World Series champions!

And we may not have Leonard Snart as mayor, but hey, we have a Cheeto for president! So maybe that time travel did do something!

Now, if only it had won me the lottery…

Or at least given me cool super powers!

Okay, back on topic…

I have actually traveled to alternate reality, even though that trip to Earth 2 is still on my bucket list.

In other words, I have read a book written by that Bachman fella…

Well, I am really not sure if those guys are one in the same, even if that whole story about death from cancer of the pseudonym is slightly suspicious…

Hey, you never know.  If young boys and and middle-aged priests can “die” in one world, and be re-born into another (cooler) world, maybe writers can be stricken with cancer of the pseudonym, and end up being re-born on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, where the writer in question takes a grisly sort of janitorial type of job, collecting macabre souvenirs as a form of payment…

Okay, again back on topic.

So, I read a Stephen King book.

Yeah, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and Cheetos make terrible leaders of the free world…

So what else is new?

Well, this book is actually new, at least somewhat.

As most of us probably know, early in his career, The King of Horror decided that he would like to write non-horror stories, every now and again.

While King has actually written some fantastic books that can be classified as not horror (The Talisman, 11/22/63, Different Seasons and The Eyes of the Dragon all readily come to mind), early on his career, he was bound by some silly rules about how many books he could publish in a year.

Somebody thought that there was such a thing as too many Stephen King books!  And they thought I was the crazy one!

So King did what any sensible King of Horror would do.  He created a pseudonym.

As far as I know, this pseudonym did not come to life and murder people, forcing a flock of birds to be called, so they could carry him off, kicking and screaming.

(However, if he is employed by the friendly folks known as SAMCRO, all bets are off, as you gotta do what you gotta do to survive over there in the charming town of Charming, California.)

King named this pseudonym Richard Bachman.  And for a while, that Bachman fella did pretty well for himself.

He wasn’t a horror writer, per se.  No, Bachman explored the darkness of human nature.  Man’s inhumanity to man, in other words.

He wrote of violence at school, corporate greed and of a dystopian government, that might actually not be fiction at this point.

And Bachman also wrote of our obsession with television, and our need to be constantly entertained, even at the expense of the feelings (and maybe even lives) of our fellow man.

In other words, I am currently reading The Running Man.

Dicky Bachman has come out to play.

So let’s indulge him, as we read and dissect The Running Man.

And, as always:

Synopsis

The book introduces us to a man named Ben Richards.  Ben is married to Sheila Richards, and the two are parents to Cathy, who is 18 months old and extremely ill.  However, Ben and Sheila are unable to obtain medicine for their daughter, as it is too expensive.  However, this world’s version of television, known as Free-Vee, does not cost anything and is available to everyone, no matter his/her social status.

Ben resolves to help his daughter, no matter the cost.  Cathy becomes distraught, but is unable to stop Ben, who leaves the house, setting off for some unknown location.

Ben arrives at a location with fifty other men. He is questioned about his criminal history, his family and his health.  He signs a form declaring his loyalty to some organization called the Games Commission.  Ben is also allowed a shower and a meal, both of which are luxuries to him.

Ben then gives up his clothes, and changes into clothes provided for him by The Games Commission.

A woman named Rinda Ward administers a test to Ben.  The test is meant to provide an assessment of Ben’s mental facilities.  Ben completes the test, and directs his anger in regards to his situation towards his test administrator, before he leaves.

Ben is then questioned by a psychiatrist.  After the questioning, Ben learns that the group of fifty has now been whittled down to four people, including himself.  He is able to place a phone call to his wife, and learns that his wife has prostituted herself, to obtain money to buy medicine for their daughter.  Ben tells her that he is a finalist, and to stay at home with their daughter.

A man named Killian introduces himself to Ben.  Ben learns that he has been selected as a contest on a show called The Running Man, a popular Free-Vee program.  Ben is given luxurious (at least to him) hotel quarters, along with hot meals and books, per his request.  Killian also gives Ben a cash advance, so that Ben can possibly help his family.

Ben is given a head start of 12 hours.  He must evade capture by men known as The Hunters.  The longer he evades capture, the larger the cash prize.  If Ben can evade capture for 30 days, he will receive 1 billion dollars.  Ben is also promised a $100 cash bonus for each Hunter or police officer he manages to kill.  He is also required to make two videotapes a day, and mail those back to the network, for its use.

A plane drops Ben in New York City. He pays someone to help him generate a fake identity, and also secures a hotel room.  However, Ben feels that the Hunters are in pursuit of him, and makes his way to Boston.  He stays in a YMCA, and barely evades capture via escape through the sewer system and by setting off an explosion in the YMCA.  The explosion kills five police officers.

Ben meets a young boy named Stacey and his brother Bradley.  Bradley helps Ben evade the Hunters, and also tells Ben that the government is deliberately polluting the air and keeping people poor, so that the poor become a sort of permanent underclass.

Bradley helps Ben, by driving him to Manchester.  Ben hides in the trunk of the vehicle.  Bradley is stopped by a police officer, but the officer does not search the trunk, and Ben safely arrives in Manchester.

Ben spends a few days in Manchester disguised as a crippled priest.  However, he senses that the Hunters are on his tail, and decides to travel to Portland to evade them. Ben also learns that one of the contestants from the show has been killed by the Hunters.

Before parting ways with Bradley, Bradley had given Ben the name and address of one of his contacts in Portland.  The man is named Elton Parrakis, and Ben seeks him out.

When Ben arrives at the house of Elton, he meets Elton’s mother.  Elton’s mother does not trust Ben, and threatens to turn Ben in.

Elton arrives home and tries to convince his mother that Ben is a friend.  However, she calls the police, and Ben and Elton are forced into a car chase.  Ben is nearly caught, but manages to evade capture, becoming severely injured in the process.

Ben then hikes through Portland on foot.  He meets a young boy, and manages to convince the boy to mail his videotapes for him.

Ben then takes a woman named Amelia Williams hostage.  He demands that that the woman take him to nearby Derry, or he will kill her.  The woman tells the police that Ben is holding her hostage, but the police shoot at the vehicle anyway.

Amelia is frightened but complies with Ben.  She drives Ben to Derry, where he intends to attempt to hijack a plane.  The authorities are waiting for Ben, but Ben convinces him that he carrying an explosive (although he is not) and bluffs his way on to a plane.

Ben contacts McCone, the chief Hunter, and forces him to board the plane, along with Amelia. Ben then takes the crew hostage, in his attempt to hijack the plane.

Killian then contacts Ben.  Killian offers Ben a job as a Hunter, since Ben has so skillfully evaded capture.  Ben also learns that his wife and daughter were killed 10 days prior, as they were stabbed to death by unknown assailants.  Ben is in shock, and asks Killian for time to consider the offer.  Killian agrees.

However, Ben, in his grief and shock, has no intention of accepting the offer.  He shoots McCone and the members of the flight crew.  He gives Amelia a parachute, and allows her to escape.

Ben is able to fly the plan into Co-Op City, and flies it to the corporate headquarters of the televised games.  He crashes the plane into the building, and the fallout of the crash is felt over 20 city blocks.

My  Thoughts

Anyone who knows me knows that I love post-apocalyptic literature.

The Stand, Swan Song, Cell, The Hunger Games and even the Dark Tower series are all novels that fall into that category.

And now, The Running Man is another novel that I can add to that category.

I had never read The Running prior to now.  I am glad that I did.

For some reason, post-apocalyptic literature just feels right now…

So, I had a craving.

And boy, did Dicky Bachman deliver!

It actually has me wondering if there are any more early, unpublished works of Dicky’s that may be found, and therefore published…

Well, you never know.  We were gifted The Regulators and Blaze, so here’s to hoping that eventually more treasures will be unearthed.  Stranger things have happened!

One of the great things about The Running Man is the title character himself.

Ben Richards, in other words.

Ben is sullen, and a bit mean, actually.

But the story reveals him to actually be an intelligent guy who has gotten the short end of the stick in life.

He was orphaned at a young age.

He married Sheila at a young age as well, and went to work for a place that apparently had some impact on his fertility, as he and Sheila were unable to conceive for a long time.

When Ben and Sheila are finally able to have a baby, even that happiness is only brief, as their only child contracts the flu, and they are unable to obtain medicine to cure her, which pushes Ben into entering a contest with a life or death outcome.

In fact, Ben is likely the only character in the story who the reader can feel sympathy for, other than Bradley and Stacey, even though their appearances are relatively short, and those characters could be argued to function more as plot devices for Ben.

Uncle Stevie er Uncle Dicky has actually managed to create a fascinating world in The Running Man.

This world could be argued to be an upside-down, nightmarish version of our world (see the opening paragraphs in regards to Earth 2, Through the Looking Glass, Flashpoint Paradox and all that good stuff.)

This novel was written over 40 years ago, and is set in 2025.

2025 was the far future back, and still feels like it should be the far future now.

Which is funny, because 2025 is now 8 years away.  2009 was eight years ago, and that feels like yesterday (at least to this blogger), so shouldn’t 2025 feel like…well…tomorrow?

And how far off is 2025, and this twisted, upside-down world, really?

And no, I am not talking about years, necessarily.

In The Running Man, the citizens have access to Free-Vee, or that world’s vision of television and media.

In our world, television is prevalent.  There is no denying this fact.

Most conversation, in fact, centers around television, in some format.

Almost every household has access to a television.

Electronic devices are now relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain.  They are no longer luxuries, but could in fact be viewed as necessities.

In fact, most households come with multiple television sets, along with multiple cell phones, desktop and laptop computers, Tablets of some sort, and the list goes on and on.

Increasingly, television, YouTube videos and social media have become a large part of most people’s lives, in much the same manner as the Free-Vee in The Running Man.

We root for our favorite contestants in reality shows, in much the same way we would root for a particular sports or particular player.

We also root against the “villains” in the same reality shows, seeing those people as rivals to the “good guys.”

Often, however, we forget that those contestants are actually human, as was the case with Ben Richards.

Ben Richards was a man trying to do right by his family.

He had an extremely ill child who he was trying find medicine for.

He also had a wife who was forced to do some unsavory work to make ends meet.

And Ben loved his wife and child.

So much that he was willing to risk his life, and do things that he otherwise may not do, because he felt that those actions were in the best interest of his family.

That is the story as well in the “real world.”

Many contestants compete on these reality shows because they feel that is a way to a better life.

I mean, if your average billionaire can get elected leader of the free world by hosting his own reality show, doesn’t that give hope to the rest of us?

And again, our society has become increasingly digital.

We may not call it “Free-Vee,” but television, cell phones and the internet are everywhere in this age.

On average, most people spend much more time on any of the above than on reading a book.

Books are not outright illegal in this society, but many schools still ban classic works, such as The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn.

In other words, the TV, internet, cell phones, etc may have become more accessible than books, in some ways.

So how far off are we really from the world of Ben Richards?

We compete for pretty much everything on reality television shows:  money, fame, musical contracts, our own restaurants, the title of Iron Chef, our future wife or husband, etc.

But the only thing we do not compete for is our life.

Never has the stake on any television show been the contestant’s life.

Yet.

But we make the media that much more accessible than books.

Libraries do close in some cities.

But it would be a surprise if any provider of television, internet or cell phone service closed down.

Our priorities are slowly shifting.

So, one day we may turn on the television, and find out that there is in fact a new “reality” show, where the stakes are the ultimate prize:  the contestant’s life being spared.

And like Ben Richards, we will be left to fend for ourselves, in a world in which we are forced to live, but will never quite understand.

Well, that’s it for our journey into the wacky, upside-down world of Richard Bachman…

At least for now.,..

Join me next month as we travel the path of the eclipse, as we review and dissect Dolores Claiborne.

Although in the meantime, we may take a little vacation to the town of Castle Rock, as we read and review the newly published Gwendy’s Button Box!

Tune in next month…

Same bat time, same bat channel!

Connections

Even though The Running Man was written by Richard Bachman, there are still some clues that indicate its place in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections I found:

-Ben travels to the city of Derry, located in Maine.  Even though Bachman’s version of Derry is obviously located in an alternative, nightmarish reality, Derry is still a familiar city to the King universe.  Several King stories take place in Derry, including It, Insomnia and Bag of Bones.

-Ben lives in Co-op City.  Eddie Dean, a main character in The Dark Tower series, also hails from Co-op City, although, once again, the Co-op City in The Running Man is obviously located in an alternate reality.

-In The Dark Tower series, Roland, Eddie, Jake and Susannah find a book written by Claudia y Ines Bachman.  Claudia is the wife of Richard Bachman, at least on some level of the Tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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