The Running Man

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First edition.

The Running Man is a dystopian thriller novel by Stephen King, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, in May, 1982. The book was adapted into a film with significant changes, which was turned into a poorly received video game. A new film is currently in the works.

The novel is set in the United States in the year 2025. Following years of economic recession and severe pollution, crime is on the rise, and most Americans live in poverty, while a small majority own most of the wealth. To placate the masses, television has turned to violent game shows where poor contestants can win big money if they don't mind being humiliated, injured, or killed. The most popular show is "The Running Man" where contestants earn money by running from a group of bounty hunters who are trying to kill them. Each contestant is given some money and a head start, and, the longer they survive, the more money they win. The story follows Ben Richards, an out-of-work laborer whose wife is prostituting herself to afford medicine for their sick infant daughter. Knowing he has no other way to provide for his family, he enrolls himself at the Games Network and finds himself as the next star of The Running Man.


Read?Audiobook read by Kevin Kenerly.

I saw the film adaption after it was released on home video, probably around 1990, not knowing it was based on a book. Much later in life, I discovered it was an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but I had no interest in reading it. Then, while looking for a new novel to read, and wanting to expand my knowledge of King's work (without committing to a massive tome), I started this book.




— This section contains spoilers! —


  • King has a lot of really good word usage, especially his descriptions and use of similes. Several times throughout the book, I thought to myself, "Oh, that's good!"
  • Naming the chapters 100 and counting, 99 and counting, etc., is creative and thematic to the story.
  • Throughout the book, there are a lot of palpably tense moments.
  • Ben Richards slowly learning the truth about how the Games Network is poisoning everyone to keep them in their homes to watch more FreeVee is a nice revelation that makes you realize just how sinister they are.


  • The whole idea of releasing a man with nothing to lose into the public to be hunted sounds interesting at first, but, once you think about it for awhile, you realize just how problematic it becomes. You're basically asking to have each of them go out in a blaze of glory, causing as much mayhem and collateral damage as possible which would cause no end of public outrage. No doubt King discovered this while writing because the novel becomes more and more unbelievable as time goes on. Also, even in the violence-loving world King creates, it doesn't make sense to reward a Running Man contestant for killing cops.
  • King's futurism is quite off. By not predicting the rise of the Internet, cellphones, GPS, etc., so much of the novel's future seems old fashioned. The idea of having to mail video tapes seems utterly ridiculous for the year 2025.
  • There is an overall juvenile sense to the writing. Lots of descriptions of genitals, feces, and explosions. I guess it's fitting to the target audience, but I found it to be a bit too childish.


  • The idea that anyone can buy high-order explosives on the street and use them to hijack a plane without much effort and the police don't have protocols in place doesn't paint a realistic picture of a society, especially one where there are a lot of desperate people. And, having law enforcement allow additional civilians to be brought on as hostages is totally unbelievable. The whole last act of the book requires a huge amount of suspension of disbelief.
  • The introduction of the 1996 and subsequent reprints spoils the book's ending.




Bechdel test?FailThere are a couple women, but they never talk to each other.
Strong female character?FailAll of the women are minor characters.
Strong non-white character?PassDan Killian is a powerful black man.
Queer character?FailThere are no queer characters.


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