The Running Man

richard bachman

The Running Man is a science fiction novel by Stephen King, first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus ‘The Bachman Books.’ The novel is set in a dystopian United States during the year 2025, in which the nation’s economy is in ruins and world violence is rising.

The story follows protagonist Ben Richards as he participates in the game show ‘The Running Man’ in which contestants, allowed to go anywhere in the world, are chased by ‘Hunters,’ employed to kill them. ‘The Running Man’ was loosely adapted into a film with the same name, which was released five years after the book in 1987. The film starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Richards.

According to King in ‘The Importance of Being Bachman,’ the introduction to ‘The Bachman Books,’ Richard Bachman was created to be his long-term alias, not just a temporary writing identity. Although this was his goal, his actual name was eventually leaked to the media, which angered King. According to King in his 2002 memoir, ‘The Running Man’ was written within a single week, compared to his normal 2,000 word, or ten page per day output (King comments that writing a novel would normally take approximately three months to complete at the pace). King described ‘The Running Man’ as, ‘…a book written by a young man who was angry, energetic, and infatuated with the art and the craft of writing. Also in ‘The Importance of Being Bachman,’ King describes the book’s protagonist, Ben Richards, as ‘scrawny’ and ‘pre-tubercular.’ King also added that Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played Ben Richards in the film adaptation of ‘The Running Man,’ portrayed the character very differently than he wrote about him in the book, saying that Richards (in the book) was ‘…as far away from the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the movie as you can get.’

The story’s protagonist, Ben Richards, is a citizen of Co-Op City, a suburb of the fictional Harding, which is located somewhere in the Midwest, west of Detroit (not to be confused with the real Co-Op City, a cooperative housing project in the Bronx) in the year 2025. The world’s economy is in a shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. Richards is unable to find work, having been blacklisted from his trade, and needs money to get medicine for his gravely ill daughter Cathy. His wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution to bring in money for the family. In desperation, Richards turns to the ‘Games Network,’ a government-operated television station that runs violent game shows. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on ‘The Running Man,’ the network’s most popular, lucrative, and dangerous program. Richards meets with Network producer Dan Killian and ‘Running’ Man host Bobby Thompson. The men proceed to discuss Richards’ contract for appearing on the show, as well as the challenges he is expected to face when the game starts.

The contestant is declared an enemy of the state and released with a 12-hour head start before the ‘Hunters,’ an elite team of ‘Games Network’-employed hitmen, are sent out to kill him. The contestant earns $100 per hour that he stays alive and avoids capture, an additional $100 for each law enforcement officer or Hunter he kills, and one billion ‘New Dollars’ if he survives for 30 days. Viewers can earn cash rewards for calling the ‘Games Network’ with information on the runner’s whereabouts. The record time for survival is eight days and five hours – a mark that Richards eventually surpasses. The runner is given $4,800 and a pocket video camera before he leaves the studio. He can travel anywhere in the world, and each day he must videotape two messages and mail them back to the studio for broadcasting. If he neglects to send the messages, he will be held in default of his Games contract and will lose the prize money, but will continue to be hunted indefinitely.

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