The Running Man is the 13th book published by Stephen King; it was his eleventh novel, and the fourth novel written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman The book was released by Signet in May of 1982.
The book has a total of 101 chapters, laid out in a "countdown" format. The first is titled "Minus 100 and Counting..." and the ensuing ones are similar, with the numbers decreasing, until the last one, "Minus 000 and Counting"
The story's protagonist, Ben Richards, is a citizen of Co-Op City, a community located next to a large, fictional city called Harding, somewhere in the American Mid-west in the year 2025. The world's economy is in shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia, overpopulated, polluted and with much of the population unemployed. Richards is unemployed and unable to find work, having been blackballed, and needs money to get medicine for his gravely ill daughter Cathy. As a last resort, Richards turns to the Games Federation, a government-mandated television station, that runs violent game shows and supplies every home in America with a tv monitor called a "Free-Vee". In one game, Treadmill to Bucks, a contestant with a heart or respiratory condition runs on a treadmill earning prize money for the duration of their run, often dying in the process. After two days of rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is chosen to be on The Running Man, the network's most popular, lucrative, and dangerous game. He meets with Dan Killian, the show's chief producer, and Bobby Thompson, the show's flamboyant host. Killian tells Richards that he's one of the best potential runners they've found yet and he's expected to be a big ratings draw. Two other finalists, Laughlin and Jansky, will also be contestants.
Contestants are declared enemies of the state and released with a 12-hour head start before an elite group of "Hunters", Games Network-employed hitmen, begin the search. The contestant earns $100 for every hour he remains alive, an additional $100 for each law enforcement officer or Hunter he kills, and one billion "New Dollars" if he should survive for 30 days. The record time for survival is eight days and five hours - a mark that Richards eventually surpasses. To increase the public's hatred of him, Richards' sendoff is a vulgar display where an altered image of his wife is shown to make her look like a tramp. When Richards tries to tell the audience the image has been faked, he's drowned out by the roar of the crowd. He gives the crowd and cameras the finger and exits the stage.
The runner is given $4,800 in cash (a two-day advance on his winnings) and a compact video recording device before he leaves the studio. He can travel anywhere in the world and each day he must videotape two messages and courier them to the TV show. Without a videotaped message, Richards would forfeit the Game, be held in default of his Games contract and will lose the prize money, but will continue to be hunted indefinitely.
As the game begins, Richards obtains a disguise and false identification documents from a forger he knows. He travels by air to New York, then Boston. In Boston, while renting a dingy room at the YMCA, he is tracked down by the Hunters and only manages to escape by setting off an explosion in the basement that kills five police officers. He narrowly escapes through a sewer pipe. Finding himself in the middle of an impoverished Boston ghetto, he meets gang member Bradley Throckmorton and his family. Throckmorton turns out to be a very intelligent and resourceful young man despite he and his family being extremely impoverished and is a member of a resourceful gang, a group that uses the local public library with a card they'd stolen. From Bradley, Richards learns that the air they breathe is polluted on a massive scale, that the poor are kept as a permanent underclass, and that the Games Network exists only as a propaganda machine to pacify and distract the public from these and other failures of society. Richards attempts to incorporate this information into his videotaped messages but finds that the Network censors them and dubs over his voice with obscenities and threats against the public.
Bradley decides to help Richards, smuggling him past a government checkpoint to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he disguises himself as an elderly, half-blind priest. In addition, Bradley provides Richards with re-mailing labels so that the Network will not be able to track Richards by the postmark on his videotapes. Richards spends a few days in Manchester, but dreams that Bradley has betrayed him after being tortured. He travels to a safe house owned by a friend of Bradley, Elton Parrakis, in Portland, Maine, but is identified and reported by the Elton's mother. As the police and the Hunters close in on the safe house, a short but furious chase ensues. Richards is wounded, taking a shot near his elbow and receiving a broken ankle when he's clipped by a police car, but manages to escape. Elton is severely injured when their car crashes in an alley but manages to drive off after leaving Richards in a remote area to seek shelter. Richards finds a safe place to hide in an unfinished shopping mall and ponders his next move: he knows if he mails the tapes from his current location, he could be easily tracked there. The next morning, after arranging to mail his tapes at a small convenience store in a nearby small village, Richards carjacks a young woman, Amelia Williams, taking her hostage and makes his way to he nearest airport about 150 miles away. Richards holds a lengthy standoff at the airport and manages to bluff his way past Evan McCone, the lead Hunter, onto a plane by pretending he is carrying high-quality plastic explosives.
He takes both Amelia and McCone as prisoners, and has the pilot fly low over heavily populated areas to avoid being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. However, he is soon confronted by Killian on a video call, who states that he knows Richards does not have any explosive as the plane's security system would have detected if he did. His cover blown, he is surprised when he is offered the job of lead Hunter. He is hesitant to take the job, worried that his family will become a target. Killian then informs him that his wife and daughter were brutally murdered ten days earlier, even before Richards first appeared on the show, and gives Richards some time to make his decision. Richards falls asleep and dreams of his murdered family and a gruesome crime scene. With nothing left to lose, Richards feigns that he accepts the offer, then overpowers at the first opportunity the flight crew and kills McCone, but is shot and mortally wounded. He allows Amelia to parachute to safety and, with his last strength, he overrides the plane's autopilot and flies the plane into the Games Building, home of The Network.
The book ends with the plane crashing directly into Killian's office, and the description, "...and it rained fire twenty blocks away."
The audiobook version of The Running Man was read by Kevin Kenerly.
|The Bachman Books|
|Rage • The Long Walk • Roadwork • The Running Man • Thinner • The Regulators • Blaze|