Run, run, as fast as you can...

So, a little while ago, I put together a winter reading list, because I felt I hadn't been reading enough. I read a total of 2 1/2 of the books on it, but one of them was The Running Man by Richard Bachman*, and I really enjoyed it.

It's one of those books set in a dreary world, stuck in an unofficial cast system. The rich and privileged are very much so, while the poor and unfortunate souls are all but ignored. And no one tries to change the status quo, because - while it isn't full blown - the world TRM is set in is a pre collectivist society. They're all zombies... harmless, but zombies none the less. And sometimes, just sitting on your rear end can do more damage than trying to pry someone's brain out of their skull.

But I digress. The upper class offers the lower class one chance at redemption, one way to break out of their poverty and finally live the high life: A series of games. An organization called "The Network" puts on games for people to win however many new dollars they can manage... but these aren't normal games. Each game pits you against some sort of weakness. For instance, people with heart disease or asthma would compete in Treadmill to Bucks, where they basically run on a treadmill until they have a heart attack. The longer they go, the more money they win.

The largest viewed game on The Network is The Running Man, where the competitor literally runs for his life, while being hunted. Viewers are told to view the contestant as a criminal, to turn him in whenever they find him, or even kill him if they can. And sightings and/or killings result in cash prizes for the killer. The risk is high, but the payout is even higher, which is why we have the story to begin with. Ben Richards has a sick daughter and needs the money, and so he competes.

I was really really impressed with the book. The pace is quick, it isn't bogged down by a lot of slow background introductions. It hits the ground running, and is full of surprises. What's most intriguing about the book, however, is that none of the characters are completely likable. Each and every one leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and at times you don't know who you should be rooting for. But that doesn't make you want to stop reading. It's done in such a way that, even though you may hate the protagonist at times, you hate the antagonists so much you want to see that they get theirs.

The ending was one of the best I've ever read. Bachman wrote the book to tell the tale of the guy that doesn't win, who doesn't walk away with a happy ending, and he does it very well. There is such a mixture of emotions when you finally close the book, that you really don't know what to do with them all. You're sad, you're happy, you feel mildly triumphant - even if you personally didn't do anything - and you feel as though you wasted your time. But you don't mind having wasted that time. It's satisfying in a really empty, tragic way.

And when things like this start popping up, it makes the book fairly terrifying.

All in all, a very good read. Quick, interesting, and very well written. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the collectivism, small-guy-trying-to-beat-the-man type stories, but I warn that it isn't a cushy, fluffy, happy go lucky book. There is never a moment where your heart gets excited, never an instant when you get a warm fuzzy. It's written in a way that makes the reader feel like they're on the run as well... it's stressful and intense and always on. But I guarantee you, it is well worth the read**.

*Richard Bachman is Stephen King... but the writing styles are completely different, so when referring to works King wrote as Bachman, I will use Bachman's name. They are the same person, but they aren't, and it's easier for me to refer to them as two different people.
**You can pick up a copy at your local bookstore or Target, as well as purchase it online

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