The Running Man

The Running Man
November 26, 2012 Constant Readers

Andrea: OK, so I totally started to read this before because there was a bookmark in the book, but apparently I got bored after like 20 pages and never finished.
So I must have really hated it because I never do that.
Pat: Or you bought it, and the bookstore put a bookmark in it, as they do. Unless it’s my copy.
Andrea: It’s your copy, but it was definitely my bookmark.
Pat: Maybe it’s my bookmark?
Andrea: Nope, it’s mine.
Pat: Does the bookmark say, “I am a pedantic weinermobile?”
Andrea: No. It was a grocery receipt.
Pat: Weird. I don’t buy groceries AND I’m not a pedantic weinermobile. The plot thickens.

Ben Richards lives in the year 2025. You can tell because there are things called “oldbucks” and “New Credit dollars,” technicos fix things, Free-Vees broadcast free television, everything has a vaguely British accent to it (“Rich Blokes Smoke Dokes!”), and some improbable mode of transit called “pneumo buses” ferries the employed and New-Credit-dollared-up folks of Co-Op City around. The future sucks.

Pat: I think I could make a good argument for this being the first book that King actually wrote.
Andrea: How so?
Pat: Because it’s awful genre fiction. Especially in the beginning, where every sentence could be summed up with “IT WAS THE FUTURE. THE FUTURE SUCKED.”

Andrea: OH, you mean that it is probably his first book because it sucks.
Pat: It does get better. Being a gay teenager or an early Stephen King book are both things that get better.
Andrea: I found it hard to believe that he wrote this after Cujo.
Pat: By the way, did you get the point that the story takes place in the FUTURE?
Andrea: Yes. It is 2021, which doesn’t seem that far away. Because it’s not.
Pat: 2025.
Andrea: Are you sure? Because my notes say 2021.
Pat: Wiki backs me up. Also, the Wikipedia editor notated that it was “2025, in our not-so-distant but oh-so-sucky future.”
Andrea: Where everyone is always reading 3D pervert magazines.
Pat: Even the cover says 2025. Look at this!
Andrea: omg. Where is the copy editor???
Pat: [clears throat]
Uh, hello, those are congruent statements, Signet. Let’s see a fucking semicolon or an em dash.
Andrea: The best men? I thought it was established that they were all society’s losers?
Pat: No, you’re right. And the cover looks like a very angry celestial butthole is screaming at the reader, who is gingerly fingering said Celestial Butthole’s rim.
Andrea: Clearly no one at Signet read the book.
Pat: Can’t really blame them on this one.
Andrea: I think every wonky-ass marketing slogan we’ve stumbled across has been Signet’s fault.
Pat: Signet marketing VP: “Hey guys, have you heard of a book called 1985?”
Peon: “1984, sir.”
Signet VP: “Don’t correct me. Have you seen it?”
Ad men: [looking up from the baby they’re eating and nodding]
Peon: “You mean read it?”
Signet VP: “Shut up. Ad men, I want something iconic, like the whole TV screens with Large Cousin thing.”
Peon: “They were posters. Of Big Brother.”
Signet VP: “Like in that ad for IBM in the 80s.”
Peon: “Apple.”
Signet VP: [removes gun, shoots Peon. A woman’s head appears from under the table near the VP at the sound of the gun] “What makes you think you’re finished down there?”
Ad men: [wiping the blood from their mouths with koala-fur napkins] “Burp!”

It super sucks because Ben’s daughter, Cathy, has to live with a name no one’s had since the 1950s. Also, she’s dying, and her parents can’t afford medical attention. But there are televised games, like Treadmill for Bucks, where contestants compete for money to the ghoulish delight of the audience. None of these facts are fabricated just to get Ben to participate in one of these games, though. Of course not!

Andrea: Okay, so my first thought was that the kid has some kind of infection, and kids can die fast with a high fever. How freaking long is this going to take?
Pat: The kid has had pneumonia forever, it seems. Chronic. And yet, I don’t care.
I feel nothing for Richards. Or his wife. Or his daughter.
Andrea: Wasn’t it so weird when his wife was like, “Oh hey, I turned some tricks’?
They seem like strangers to each other.
Andrea: Turning tricks seems like a better option than certain death in a gameshow.
Pat: But turning tricks doesn’t make enough money.
Andrea: The thing I found really interesting so far was polio coming back, because of how whooping cough is now coming back in California because of idiots not vaccinating their kids.
Pat: I’d have preferred polio to pneumonia, but I guess the point King was making was that MAN, EVEN THAT KIND OF BUSH-LEAGUE ILLNESS WILL KILL YOU HERE IN 2025 S.F.
Andrea: Is that like B.C. and A.D.? 2025 Science Fiction?
Pat: “Sucky Future.” It’s worth mentioning that Mrs. Jenner, the sucky future nosey-noserson in the first chapter, never comes up again.
Andrea: Oh yeah, she has money because she turns people in for fake drugs right? And she smells like soup?
Pat: I don’t remember that. I just remember her making notes, all ominously, like she was going to turn someone in later, which she doesn’t. She just watches games and is a cunt.
Andrea: Then there’s boob lady. “Her ancient wrinkled dug”??
Pat: ????
Andrea: There was some old lady with an old boob, and SK called it “her ancient wrinkled dug.”
Pat: What does “dug” mean in this instance? Boobs? Cleavage? Anything coherent?
Andrea: One boob is a dug, I believe.
Pat: That’s fucking preposterous.
Andrea: Maybe he meant jug? And it’s a typo?
Pat: She only had one old boob? And then a new one?
Andrea: I think he could only just see one of them flopping around. I can’t even remember the context.
Pat: Oh, it’s because she was wearing a housedress with a rip in it.
Andrea: That is like the only thing I took notes on.
This is the least memorable book of all time.
Andrea: I would be so bad at all of these games. I am going to suck at the future.
Pat: Treadmill for Bucks seems especially ludicrous.
Andrea: I know.
Pat: Imagine if Stevie had written this after the spate of lunatic game shows that cropped up in the late 90s and early aughts.
“We’ll chase you down and kill you, and every ten hours, you have to send us a tape, also: eat a kangaroo penis.”
Andrea: The Dora the Explorer theme song is in my head ALL THE TIME

Richards walks the shitty streets of Co-Op City to the ominous Games building. He is tested and stuff! SURPRISE: he tests really well! It is made known over and over that we are in THE FUTURE, where things are AWFUL, and people don’t do lifetime marriages. Richards has been a REBEL HIS WHOLE LIFE. He kicked his principal in the ass! He uses racial slurs! He never signed some sort of union working pledge, and his balls are so steely he survived getting sterilized with radiation back when he was working for General-Atomic! (Get it? It’s like General Electric, but ALL KINDS OF IN THE FUTURE.) This guy is all anti-establishment! My god. Will the main character make it through all the rounds of testing to one of the game shows? OF FUCKING COURSE. And the best game show of all: THE RUNNING MAN, which is sort of like Burning Man, except without all the drugs.

Pat: Uh, why did we need a countdown for chapter breaks? “…MINUS 099 AND COUNTING…” Dude, we have page numbers. Unnecessary.
Andrea: I don’t know. I ignored that because it was stupid.
Pat: It kind of doesn’t have any impact until he goes to the Games Whatever, and even then, it’s kind of stilted already, fresh-out-the-box.
Andrea: The whole intake part where he was trying out for the games and whatever was half super-fascinating to me and half really drawn out and boring.
Pat: REALLLLLLLLYYYY DRAWWWWWWWWNNNN OUTTTTTT. I get it: we are being shown how the Games Network treats and views the plebes. Still, he could’ve been a little more concise about it.
Andrea: And what was up with the chick with the “rouged nipples” who gave the psych test? Who puts rouge on their nipples?
Andrea: Why was she there, anyway?
Pat: Best I can tell, she was part of a test constructed to figure out how flusterable contestants were.
Pat: Oh, also, her rouged-up nipples probably symbolized the decadence of the Network, who, I don’t know if you have caught on yet, are Evil?
Andrea: The Network isn’t nearly evil enough.
Pat: I don’t even have any animosity towards the Network. I AM NOT ENGAGED EMOTIONALLY, HERE.
Andrea: I KNOW
This is a very tepid book. That’s the only way I can describe it.

The rules of The Running Man are simple: contestants run from and are chased by trained hunters, and it’s all on TV (IN THE FUTURE!)! Richards totally runs. He is a Good Contestant. He runs back to his home neighborhood to find Non-Descript Black Market Guy for disguises!

Andrea: Once I realized he can get on a plane and whatnot, I was like, “Oh hey, this game’s kind of easy.”
Pat: This is like world-scale Hunger Games.
Andrea: Right.
Pat: It seems like, without the tapes potentially giving away locations, no one would ever lose the game.
Andrea: Especially with disguises and whatnot.
Pat: Right? And how appropriate that in his dodgy (apparently Midwestern?) hometown of Co-Op City, his little ghetto neighborhood has an All-Purpose Illegal Stuff Guy?
Andrea: I guess that’s what it’s like in the apocalypse. I could not for the life of me picture the disguise he had made for him as anything but glasses with a rubber nose and mustache.
Pat: You were picturing him disguised as Groucho Marx?
Andrea: Yes.
Pat: It’s 2025, shouldn’t some sort of plastic surgery be more readily available?
Andrea: IDK
Pat: Or hologram masks? Something better than prosthetics?
Andrea: They can’t even get medicine and you want hologram masks?
Andrea: “This book is preposterous. It doesn’t even consider the possibility of hologram masks.”

Richards gets to relax for a week, eating and drinking whatever he wants (the Network is decadent! Most people starve! and other morality plays). He’s even offered any number of casual sexual partners, all of whom he turns down because he is Faithful To His Wife, who he can’t get a hold of on the phone. Instead of indulging, he Dicks Around with the guards, who call him names. He even pays one of them back for the coin he borrowed to call his wife, because Richards is a Solid Dude, we’re learning!

Pat: Even the part where he gets to hang out for a week, smoke rich people cigarettes, drink bourbon, and eat all he can manage is totally Hunger Games.
Or, should I say, that part of Hunger Games is totally Running Man.
Andrea: I didn’t even think of that.
He turns down the ho though.
All Katniss got was stupid Peeta.
God I hate his face.

Whatever, though, because the first person to rip Stephen King off was one Stephen King.

Pat: So the question is, after the Long Walk, and then the Running Man, why didn’t he take it the next step and rip himself off with a book about dystopian death games featuring sprinting? Or flying? Or car racing?
Or in the other direction? He could’ve done a book about futuristic Nap-Boxing.
Andrea: Or dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you.
Andrea: When was the last time I even mentioned the Simpsons to you?
Pat: One minute ago.


Andrea: OH HI.
Pat: Sure.
Andrea: OK where did we leave off?
Pat: I have no idea.
Andrea: D’OH.

So Richards runs. Runs like a man. Like a running man. He must dodge around! He gets his disguise on and goes to New York. Or Boston. The future is kind of vague. Now, there aren’t film crews following the running men; they have to send tapes (tapes! in the future!) back every so often to provide the network with footage of their flight. They claim this doesn’t give the contestants’ positions away, but since they are a SHADOWY FUTURE ORGANIZATION, the OMININOUS IMPLICATION is that, yeah, they’re probably tracking the tape drops.

Pat: I don’t remember the exact description of his recording device, but I remember it was heavy.
Andrea: Yeah that seemed weird. They specifically mentioned its heaviness more than once.
Pat: It’s amazing that no one back then, not even all-seeing Stevie, could envision a way to record video that wasn’t huge and recorded on NON-PHYSICAL MEDIUM. Weren’t spy films already using mini-CDs back then?
Andrea: A lot of this seemed really unlikely. Even for someone writing it that long ago.

Richards holes up in a hotel for a while, making tapes of him wearing a towel or something around his head to disguise the fact that he’s wearing a disguise. What?

Pat: He hides out and makes tapes wrapped in pillowcases or whatnot.
Andrea: I have only the dimmest memory of this.
Pat: Then he gets the Fear™ because people outside his window are outside his window.
Andrea: Oh right.
Pat: I’m not entirely sure why he blew the place up. Or how.
Andrea: It wasn’t very clear. This stupid book was nothing if not vague.
Pat: Then he escapes through a pipe that made no physical sense to me. He didn’t fit? He did? He sort of did?
Andrea: That is when I typed “UGH THE SLIMY PIPE” in my notes.

Basically, Richards blows up the hotel and the police that were chasing him down into the basement, which also blew up. Also: tons of extra New Credit Moneydollar Points are awarded for killing police officers! Then, on his way out of the sewers, he meets the book’s first Extraordinary Black Person, a kid. Who has an Older Brother who is Deus Ex Machina as fuck with his brainy resourcefulness.

Pat: The whole black kids thing. It seemed very… I don’t know how to frame it. Huck Finnian?
Andrea: It was very weird. With an old weird grandma.
Pat: Grandmother was your bog-standard stereotypical old black lady. Kids were that stereotypical astereotype of smart black kids.
Andrea: Totally. They were jive-ass.
Pat: Is he supposed to be having an epiphany about the blacks? Was there a racial thing I missed? Besides him calling that one black dude racial epithets all casual-like during testing.
Andrea: I don’t think he has any kind of epiphany. He is a cipher. Until magically we get his back-story like 3/4 of the way through the book.
Pat: I kind of don’t remember his backstory.
Andrea: It was really depressing. His parents sucked, he had no skills, and he married young.
It was basically “The River.”
Except with no river.
Pat: Bwahaha
Andrea: But again, why did we not get it until the book was almost over?
Pat: Maybe he wanted to make it a snappy action book. Wait until the reader was already invested and ready for a nap to bring up Richards’ Lame-O brand™ history
Andrea: He failed miserably. I felt nothing for anyone in this book.
Pat: I didn’t know whether to believe the black kid was able to get a car and stuff and drive him out of town. Which is literally what I’ve been taught as a white person that all black people can do.

Richards is told by Black Kids™ there is a conspiracy about air quality, and that fancy people have nostril air purifiers or something. The pollution is what’s making all the poor people sick! INCLUDING RICHARDS’ DAUGHTER! It’s coming full circle. Older, Smart Black Kid™ has a friend who hipped him to this conspiracy, and they share information they glean from books and stuff that no one reads anymore. His friend is fat! He will hide Richards once the kid gets him out of town in that car!

Andrea: Remind me what happened there.
Pat: He takes the car up somewhere to meet a friend of Older Black Kid’s, after the conspiracy of nose-filters is exposed to him. Then the mother freaks out because she knows it’s him and he’s a killer blah blah blah. High-speed chase with hover-air-car-things that aren’t described very well, crash, Richards gets out, fat kid is mortally wounded, drives away to draw off the po-po.
Andrea: I totally zoned out on this whole part because I found it so horrifically improbable and not described well at all.

Richards survives!

Pat: So fat kid beefs it.Then, uh… what, he runs into a farmer or some shit?
A kid drops off some tapes? He pulls that woman over? And she is the embodiment of middle class people who don’t give a fuck about anything but their own little red wagons?
Andrea: Yeah that was all very confusing. And dumb and annoying.
Pat: Then it’s the END GAME.
I’d say the stand-off with the fake purse filled with thermite or whatever was the most engaging part of the book.
Andrea: Yeah, I guess. I didn’t like any of this book.

It is at this point that Andrea essentially gives up. Richards heads to an airfield, but everyone’s already there! Because he told them to, and he has a hostage, and he’s pretending he has some insane explosive device in her purse, which, okay? A crowd is at the gates, and he’s let through, only to get into a drawn-out wait over his demands: a plane, fueled-up and ready to go. The head hunter is waiting and trying to stall him out until they can figure out if he does or doesn’t have a bomb. Richards is super wily! He gets onto the plane, brings the hostage woman, and then makes the hunter get on with him! He is way wounded, by the way, and the hunter is ready to fuck him up but good the second he gets a chance. Finally, they take off. Also, he Skypes with the Network, where Shadowy Bossman who Always Liked Richards offers him a deal: he’ll be let go, with winnings, and they’ll just say the plane was brought down and he was killed. Win-win. All if he just gives up on the bomb, which they Still Don’t Think He Has, Maybe, But Aren’t Really Sure. He tells them to stuff it! They tell him his wife and daughter are dead. Whoops! So now Richards is a dying man with nothing to live for. And they’re in a plane. THERE IS A SHOWDOWN WITH THE HUNTER. Richards wins! And literally everyone else is fucking dead. Did we mention that they’ve been flying towards Co-Op City this entire time? In a plane? Remember the Network’s big administrative building or whatnot? Yes. Yes, Stephen King is going there. Oh boy.

Andrea: Soooooo…the ending.
Pat: I’m going to guess this won’t be made into a movie again til it’s been roughly 100 years since 9/11.
Andrea: I wonder if they kept that ending for the movie?
Pat: I’ve seen bits and pieces, and I think he just stomps upstairs and murders everyone. Instead of, you know, flying a plane into the building.

Which he does. Yeah. Shadowy Boss Man who Always Liked Richards is basically watching it approach at the end, and just as the stupid “…MINUS ## and counting…” thing ticks over to “000,” everyone in the story is dead, and no one really cares.