The Running Man

When I packed my bags for Puerto Galera last week, a book was one thing that didn’t cross my mind. Years of experience have taught me that I will never find the time to read while traveling. Plus, lounging by the beach with a book in hand seemed too perfect a possibility to seem real. So when we got there and I found out that we were to do nothing besides swim and eat and drink, I scrambled to the nearest library—which, thankfully, was only meters away. A rummage through Sunset at Aninuan’s small collection yielded this early Stephen King novel, which—despite my earlier disbelief—I read cover to cover right on the beach.

Scene: Co-op City, squalid, polluted district. Time: 2025, dystopian future. In this setting we meet Ben Richards, an out-of-work citizen who joins the Games Network’s biggest show, The Running Man, out of desperation. The rules are simple: in this televised chase, the contestants serve as bait for the Hunters, and are considered fair game for anyone, civilians included. Survive thirty days, and you bag the billion-dollar jackpot. Get caught, and you die. Faced with such a high-stakes premise, I expected to devour the book quickly; instead my actual progress was reluctant and forced. The first fifty pages comprise a tedious account of Richards’ application process within the Network bureaucracy. The pacing picks up during the actual Hunt, but after that, everything plummets. Ten pages left in the book, and I would still stop reading just to eat breakfast. By then it felt clear that the story was pulling the character forward instead of the other way around: Richards’ thought processes became difficult to follow; motivations disappeared. With each closing chapter, the story felt more and more like it’s backing itself into a corner where no ending could redeem it.

Stephen King says he wrote this novel in one week—I’m not surprised. The opening scene, Richards’ sob story, is only one of a million others, and not even a compelling one at that. A cop actually tells him “you types are all the same,” “a story for every day of the year.” But a setup like this isn’t impossible to work with. The premise has great potential, and deserves a much lengthier exploration than what The Running Man offers. It’s a pity; Stephen King could have done way, way better.

When the entire group was wearing them, Ben Richards felt as if he had lost his face.

‘You bastards! If you want to see somebody die so bad, why don’t you kill each other?’

There was something suspicious and alien in his features, yet familiar also. After a moment Richards placed it. It was innocence.

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