The Running Man by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a pretty good story, but quite different from what I'd expected. Of course I knew it was a dystopia, and centered around a game-show, but other than that, I didn't have much idea about the story. I've never seen the movie - and looking at IMDB right now, that's probably a good thing - so I didn't even have those misconceptions to deal with. Ben Richards is not an ex-cop who was wrongfully accused of anything. He was born into the wrong economic situation and grew bitter because of it. Working in a factory known to cause sterility at best, he quit in order to try to have a child... and makes the mistake of telling the truth about why he quit, which blackballs him from finding any other steady work. He and his wife finally succeed in conceiving, but there's still no work to be had, so they have no food, no medicine, barely a place to live, thanks to Ben's wife who prostitutes herself out to try to make ends meet. When the baby gets pneumonia, Ben gets desperate, and signs up with the Network to appear on a game show for money.
The one he makes it on is The Running Man. Here's the deal: 1 man tries to last a full 30 days with a team of hunters chasing him, and the Network setting the citizens against him. If a citizen turns him in and he is killed, that person gets a reward. If he makes it, the contestant gets $1 billion New Dollars. For every hour he remains alive, the contestant (or his family when he's killed) will receive $100 ND. He only has to film 2 10-minute tapes and mail them to the Network every day, or defaults and wins nothing... but is still hunted.
So this is what Bitter Ben signs up for. But he's smart, and his game show experience turns out to be like no other.
This was kind of brutal, but being a Bachman book, that's to be expected. But there was also a kind of 'skim' feel to the story. Things didn't really delve all that deep, like with the pollution and corruption, etc, but it doesn't really NEED to. The context is enough to get it, but it would add a lot if it just had that extra something.
I found myself wondering about the Network. The cynical part of me kept wondering how people could trust their promises to pay and not rig the game. Desperation, I guess. But then I got to thinking about how the Network goes out of its way to demonize the contestants participating in The Running Man, turning everyday citizens into blood-thirsty vigilantes who think that they are working towards a greater good in ridding their country of criminals... and I started thinking, "OK, so, if a contestant makes it the full 30 days, and suppose the Network does stand by its promise to call off their dogs and pay out -- who is to call off the citizens? Those people who've been lied to and manipulated and think that the contestant really is as bad as they've been told? THEY won't stop thinking that the contestant is a criminal just because they were smart and wily enough to evade the hunters for a month... if anything that would reinforce their suspicions that they play by their own rules. It's a losing game all the way through.
Ben definitely plays by his own rules, and the way things work out was not at all what I expected. I thought it was a good ending.
I will say that there were a couple things that I found kind of distracting though. First, King's depiction of the future was a little off, mainly in terms of money. I know he's no fortune teller, but I couldn't help but think that he was using 1970s pricing in the story, and then just labeling it "New Dollars" to make it more futuristic sounding. Things like buying a baby crib mobile for 10 cents. Or getting narcotics for $3. I'd have found it much more believable if he had made the prices of things so ridiculous that a billion dollar prize would have seemed reasonable.
Secondly, as the main hunter, Evan McCone was really disappointing. This guy is supposed to be the most ruthless, the most fearless, the most resourceful and clever killer out there. His job consists of hunting down Running Man contestants and killing them on national TV. But I thought he was pretty... average. *sigh*
Overall, I liked the story, but I can't say that it's a favorite. Definitely worth a read though.
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