Revisiting an old favourite for the first time as an audiobook, The Running Man by Stephen King (published under Richard Bachman) is just as compelling now as when I first read it. If I’m being brutally honest, my first exposure to The Running Man was the Schwarzenegger movie from 1987, which bears only a passing similarity to the source material.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cheesy 80s shoot-em-ups, but as far as book adaptations go, the book is far superior in this instance. And since I’m being honest, I did enjoy the heck out of the movie when I was a kid. I wonder how it’d hold up on a rewatch today… something to explore this weekend, maybe.
Set in the far future (well, 2025 in 1982 was probably space-age and flying cars) in a dystopian America where there is an even greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. Ben Richards is firmly in the have-nots, barely surviving in a polluted world.
To keep the unwashed masses docile, the Free-Vee is available to all. The shows are a dystopian mix of such horrors like Swimming with Crocodiles, Treadmill to Bucks – where contestants with heart conditions have to answer questions on a treadmill until they invariable have a heart attack – through to the crown jewel – The Running Man.
The Running Man pits contestants against hunters and, frankly, all of America since they’re legal to kill. Spotting a runner can earn you cash; getting them killed earns you even more.
Richards signs up to help his family. His young daughter is seriously ill, and he has no money for medicine. Seeing no alternative, he signs up and lands a spot on The Running Man.
The story is fast-paced and a slow-burn at the same time, which seems counter-intuitive, but it’s the best way I find to describe it. The chapter structure sucks you right in, too, as each one is counting down toward zero. This seems particularly well suited to audio because even though I’ve read the book on Kindle a few times, it never pulled me in as much as this.
There is a lot of problematic dialogue, though being set in a dystopian future where society is depicted as oppressive and divided, the rampant racism and homophobia serve their purpose.
The narration by Kevin Kenerly took me a little getting used to. Well done, but it sounded to me like he was swallowing his words, if that makes sense. Heaps of background noise, like thumps and clicks, so the production could have been better.
A few final things of note – the Audible reviews all mention how King spoils the ending in the foreword. Well, someone must have noticed, as the foreword is now an afterword meaning no more spoilers.
Overall though, I’ll certainly be giving this one more listens in the future. It’s an excellent story that sucks you right in. If you enjoy exploring themes of media manipulation, government control, and the dehumanization of society all wrapped up in a dystopian hell, then this one is for you.
Even with the poor production, I’m still giving this 5-stars. The book deserves it.
PS – I would love to see a fresh remake of this as a movie. Now that we’re beyond the cringy 80s movie styles, a movie adaptation done now and kept closer to the source material would be killer.