The Running Man by Richard Bachman

One-Sentence Summary: A survival game show involves a man who keeps running from being killed by a group of hitmen hired by a government-operated tv station.

The story sets in a fictional Co-Op City in the year 2025. America has become a totalitarian dystopia, and the world's economy is in bad shape. Most of the population is unemployed. Every home in America is supplied with a tv monitor called "Free-Vee", which runs violent and physically challenging game shows produced by the government-operated tv station, Network Games.

Ben Richards is out of work. His eighteen-month-old daughter Cathy is sick and needs money to see a doctor. Richards decided to participate in one of the highest-rated viewer-participation shows produced by the Network Games. The game show requires contestants to risk their lives for a large sum of money. Richards plans to give himself all out even if he loses his life so that his wife Sheila will have the rewarded money to bring their daughter to see a doctor.

Richards has to go through a thorough background check and physical and mental examinations before being accepted to participate in the game. Then, he also needs to take math, intellectual, and even psychology test. His outstanding results led him to be chosen to be on The Running Man, the network's most popular, lucrative, and dangerous game. He is interviewed by the executive producer, Dan Killian, and Killian explains to him that he is chosen based on the tests' assessments.

The contestant and his surviving family will win $100 for each hour he remains free. Richards is given $4800 running money on the assumption that he will be able to deceive the Hunters for 48 hours. The unspent balance is refundable if he falls before the 48 hours. The contestant will be given a 12-hour for a head start before the Hunters, an elite team of Network-employed hitmen, are sent out to kill him. There will be an additional $100 for each Hunter that he kills. If Richards can survive for 30 days, he will win the Grand Prize - one billion New Dollars. Before Richards leaves the studio, he is given a pocket recording device. 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 fails to send the messages, he will be forfeited from the game, and the prize money will be stopped accumulating but will continue to be hunted indefinitely. Every reported sighting of him will be rewarded with $100, and if the result of the report causes him to get killed, the reward will be $1000. The game has been running for six years, and so far, there are no contestants able to survive until the end.

Once Richards is out to the street on his own, he obtains a false identification and dresses in disguise. He flies to New York City and later to Boston. He almost got tracked down in Boston and had to sneak through a sewer pipe to avoid being captured. Then, Richards meets Bradley and his family in Boston, who are willing to help Richards to flee to somewhere else. Through Bradley, he learns that the air is severely polluted in the city, and the poor people are kept in a permanent underclass. The Games Network exists only as a propaganda machine to soothe and distract the public from society's poverty and other failures.

This book has a total of 101 chapters, numbered in a "countdown" format; it begins with "Minus 100 and Counting…", and the numbers decrease until the ending chapter with "Minus 000". It's a slow-paced progress story, but each chapter is concise. This story was published in 1982, and it's fascinating to read such a remarkable piece of work in the 2020s. I'm not so sure how the society looks like in the 1980s, but somehow, the predictions about the future are pretty accurate when there are many similarities to what we are experiencing at the current moment. The public's anger towards the privileged and the ignorance of the wealthy group towards the poor. It also highlights the reality of poverty which the government tries to hide from the people. The privileged stay in their cocoons, protected from the social problems of the outside world, whereas the poor people are experiencing the struggles caused by the incompetent government.

It feels like back to the past and someone telling me what he foresees about the future. I admire the extraordinary imagination about the future problems we face right now. The fantasies of someone in the 1980s have turned into reality before we reach 2025. Initially, I felt bored with the story due to the slow pace, but once Bradley appears, Richards's life turns into an adventurous journey with an incredible idea of ending the game.

ISBN: 9781101212141 (ebook)
Number of Pages: 287
Rating: ★★★ (3/5)
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