CR3 #13: The Bachman Books by Stephen King

The Bachman Books consists of four novellas that were published by Stephen King under the assumed name “Richard Bachman.” Bachman was King’s escape hatch–he could write non-supernatural thrillers without “tarnishing” his brand. Three of the four pieces in this collection are stories that I consider some of King’s best work.

“Rage”: This is actually out of print now, I believe, since one of the Columbine shooters allegedly quoted it as an inspiration and King asked that it not be printed again. It’s the story of Charlie Decker, a high school senior who–on a bright spring day–shoots his algebra teacher and takes his class hostage. The story is told from Decker’s point of view, as he tries to explain what drove him to this point. However, the truly surprising part is the reaction of his classmates to the situation, and the way that the tables unexpectedly turn on Charlie and on Ted, the BMOC. I like this one because the reactions of Charlie’s classmates are truly surprising. Although it is at sometimes uneven, and is obviously the work of a young writer (Stephen King wrote this when he was 17 himself, and it shows…nowadays, he’d probably be expelled for writing something like this!) it certainly has its moments.

“The Long Walk”: Ray Garraty is a sixteen year old from Maine who is participating in his society’s big yearly event: the Long Walk. One hundred boys from around the country gather to walk as far as they can without stopping, starting in Northern Maine and maintaining a pace of at least 4 miles per hour. Ray starts out excited, but soon realizes that the walk is no laughing matter: walkers who drop below 4mph more than three times are summarily executed. It’s a battle for survival and sanity. This is a great story as far as character development. The plot is fairly static (boys are walking, talking, and dying), so we’ll probably never have to worry about this being made into a movie, thank God. However, the interplay between the characters and their gradual realization of what they’ve gotten themselves into is gripping.

“Roadwork”: This is my least favorite of the four. It’s basically the same original premise as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except instead of being zipped off the face of the earth when it turns out a new freeway is going to be going directly through his house and business, the main character of this story tries to fight the man and eventually loses his mind. It’s trying very hard to be “deep” and “serious” but instead it is just deeply and seriously “no fun.”

“The Running Man”: The movie of the same name starring the Governator is VERY VERY loosely based on this story, but the novella is 180% better. In this story, a healthy but extremely poor man living in a dystopian future needs money to provide for his sick child. He applies and is accepted for a part on the television show “The Running Man.” The idea is that he has to survive for thirty days while being hunted by both trained assassins and the viewing public. As he runs, he discovers that there is more going on in the world than he could have imagined, and the giant TV conglomerate has its own dirty secrets. This is another really great story, with both a lot of action and a certain amount of character development. This would actually make a great movie, if it were done properly instead of becoming a campy cartoon.

On the whole, I’d definitely recommend getting  copy of this collection — make sure you get an old version, though, so you get all four stories.


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