Friday, 20 December 2013

The Running Man, by Richard Bachman

(so, Stephen King then, really) - 4 stars
read in Oct 2011

Stephen King usually speaks to a small, scared and helpless part of me that hopes everything is going to be alright. It seems that as Bachman he whispers to a smaller cynical, angry, and violent part that knows nothing will.

I assumed that I was more than familiar with this story thanks to having seen the Ahhnuld movie a thousand times or more. Turned out that, apart from the main character's name and the Games concept, I knew an entirely different beast altogether. 

Ben Richards isn't the muscle-bound 'Butcher of Bakersfield', framed for a crime he didn't commit. He's a normal, desperate man, unemployed and watching his 18 month old daughter die of pneumonia while his wife attempts to earn money for medicine on her back, whose only way left of providing for his family lies in becoming a contestant for one of the Network's many shows for people desperate enough. These range from Treadmills to Bucks, where the ill can earn cash by running until they conk out...

...all the way up the The Running Man, where potential troublemakers are weeded out by being hunted down and killed, with the amount of time they stay alive discerning how much cash their dependents can look forward to. Thanks to his intelligence and contempt for the unfair society around him, Richards is picked for the latter and here the Hunters out to get Richards aren't the gaudy Buzzsaws and Dynamos of the film but could instead be any one of the people around him, while the ones who aren't are still potentially well-rewarded informers.

What's really scary is how plausible the world created is, being not so far from our own, depending on your viewpoint. As the rich are rewarded with tax breaks, the bankers who nearly ruined us get yet more bonuses and our utility companies tell us they have to put up prices to cover their costs while at the same time posting record profits, our MP's talk about the poor of this country who survive on benefits as though they're morally bankrupt, grasping and lazy scum who ought not even have that small financial safety net and huge chunks of the country believe the party line regardless of the evidence in front of them. Entertainment-wise we already get such gems of television as To Catch A Predator, where paedophiles are lured into televised confrontations, Cheaters where we get to see the direct emotional fallout of your partner betraying you, and I have personally tuned in weekly and watch Ronnie physically and emotionally abuse everyone around him on Jersey Shore, half-horrified and half hoping someone will appear and pummel him into the pavement (so I'm really in no position to judge, but that never usually stops me). 

The world within The Running Man has, just like Ronnie, simply had a steroid injection and become meaner and King (Bachman) plucks my strings as masterfully as usual, until I was almost egging Richards on to his violent conclusion.

Great stuff - and I should probably leave it there before someone calls MTV and puts me on some sort of watch-list.

1 comment:

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