Monday, April 25, 2011

The Running Man

Believe it or not, this is actually the first Stephen King novel I have ever read.  However, since he wrote it under the name Richard Bachman, it may not actually count.

My first exposure to The Running Man was the 1987 Ahhnald movie, which featured all the intelligent dialogue and gripping drama one can expect from a 1980s Schwarzenegger film.

Understand, I am not complaining, I love me some cheesy action from the 1980s.  Back then people could not only hit targets at an astonishing 10% accuracy rate, but they could also do it while completely ignoring those weird pieces sticking out of the top of the gun (I've been told these pieces are called "sights" but they are no help when properly holding the weapon at your stomach).

1980s awesomeness aside, the original 1982 story has very little in common with the movie.  It is set in a futuristic world where people volunteer for reality TV shows where they are subjected to highly orchestrated forms of torture and derision in the hope of making a few bucks.  Thankfully our society has proceeded down a much more noble path than the one Mr. Bachman envisioned, and such television programs have never been produced.

In this world the top show is called "The Running Man."  As you can probably guess, there is a man, he is running, and if he gets caught he dies.  However where the movie turns contestants loose into some sort of giant American Gladiators set with roided up hunters driving big dune buggies and wielding chainsaws, in the novel contestants are let loose into the general public and required to check in with daily videos (yes, he predicted the reality TV confession booth).

The story moves forward relentlessly, making only one brief pause for some background where Bachman is obviously working to give us the bare minimum we need so that he can get back to the story.  I won't say that any of the twists really caught me off guard, but they were enough to keep me interested.  The final scene features a prolonged injury that would make for an interesting effect if anyone ever tried to do a faithful screen adaptation.  However I think anyone ever making a faithful adaption of the finale is pretty much impossible in our world, at least for a few more years (I'll let you figure out what that means).

Overall what I found myself enjoying about this book is that it is well written science fiction that makes several observations of the future which are coming dangerously close to being true.  No, we have not yet made a TV show where we intentionally set out to kill someone, but if someone did can we honestly say that there wouldn't be millions tuning in?