The Bachman Books

A collection of four novellas all published by King as Richard Bachman.

Rage

The first novella concerns a school-boy named Charlie Decker, who is more than slightly mad. One day, after being called to the principal to discuss his future after hitting a teacher over the head with a piece of lead piping, he starts a fire in his locker, and goes back into the classroom, shooting his teacher as he comes in.

As the school is evacuated because of the fire, Charlie gets on the intercom to tell the outside world that his class won't be coming out, but not to worry, as the fire isn't a problem. Then the fun begins. At first, obviously, most of the class are scared out of their minds. Gradually, however, they start to realise that Charlie isn't about to hurt them, and they start talking... and various hitherto untold secrets come out.

In-between stories told by Charlie and his class-mates, there are a few conversations on the intercom - first the headmaster tries to talk to Charlie, then Charlie's shrink, then someone from the police. The conversation with the shrink has to be read to be believed... I won't spoil it for you (just for a change), but I wouldn't have thought such torture were possible over an intercom before I read it...

While Charlie and his friends are "getting it on" (an alternative title for the novella), the police set up a sniper, and after a while, he takes a shot. Fortunately, Charlie happened to have Titus the Helpful Padlock in his shirt pocket, so he his hurt but not killed. By now, all but one of the class are totally with Charlie - the one student remaining to be convinced is called Ted. After a bit more chatting, Charlie announces that soon he will give himself up - but first the class have one thing to do, which involves shutting the blinds so the police can no longer see what is happening. The police eventually agree (having no choice) and after drawing the blinds, the class "educate" Ted...

Let's just say that Ted isn't quite the same kid afterwards as he was before... Charlie, is of course, imprisoned... but his classmates still write to him. They cope with what he has done far better than he does.

This is, in my opinion, King's best novella - in terms of sheer addictiveness, it can't be beaten.

The Long Walk

The Long Walk is the ultimate sport of the future, where the prize is whatever the winner wishes, and the punishment for failing to win is death.

A hundred teenage Walkers set off every year, walking at four miles an hour or faster, and followed by half-tracks. Every time a Walker falls below four miles an hour, he is warned. Instead of a fourth warning, the Walker is shot by soldiers in the half-tracks. If a Walker manages to go for an hour without gaining any more warnings, one of his current warnings (if any) is lost: after three hours of four miles an hour, you are free and clear.

The main character in the story is Walker #47, Ray Garraty. Ray is from Maine (like many of King's characters) and doesn't know why is in the Walk. Most people don't consciously know why they are Walkers - there is a test which anyone can take, and most people do, if only to see if they are suitable. A small proportion are picked, and then two hundred names are drawn from a drum, like lottery numbers - live on national television. At this stage the boys don't know if they are reserve Walkers or the real thing. There is still time to back out, but not many do. Many theories are expounded during the Walk (there is, after all, plenty of time to talk if you still have the energy) as to why the boys are doing it: some say it is for the prize, while others think that all the Walkers have a subconscious deathwish.

Although obviously not all the Walkers are given much space, there are a few notable characters: Barkovitch, the boy all Walkers love to hate; Hank Olson, the boy who goes into a walking catatonia; Scramm, who is married; Pete McVries, Ray's main "friend" of the walk; and Stebbins.

Stebbins remains quiet for almost the whole Walk - he stays at the back, not taking part in any of the conversations other than the occasional word to Garraty when he falls back. In this way, he takes on a mysterious quality for the other Walkers - his silence disquiets them. Later, when there are not many Walkers left, Stebbins gradually opens up to Garraty, revealing that he is the Major's bastard son. He had been trying to use the Walk to get back at the Major, but realised that it was he himself who was being used. He calls himself a rabbit - used to make the other Walkers keep going that bit longer.

In the end, Garraty wins after Stebbins falls and just doesn't make it up again. However, Garraty doesn't realise he's won - ahead of him, he can see a dark figure who's still walking...

The ending to this novella has caused much debate on the newsgroup alt.books.stephen-king. Several people have given their theories about the dark figure - some say he's Flagg (just about every evil or dark character in any SK book has been purported to be Flagg - I'm wary of this now), some say he's death, some say he's just an hallucination. Me? I go for the last option. Garraty is more than half mad by the end of the Walk, after all.

This is a really superb novella - one of King's darkest stories, really quite gruelling to read. For sheer pace of ideas it doesn't match either Rage or The Running Man, but if you don't mind being constantly depressed by it, it's a good read.

Roadwork

The Running Man

Another lethal game, The Running Man is a future Free-Vee show. It is 2025, and society is sharply divided between rich and poor - the rich have nose-filters so they can breathe the polluted air, the poor die without medicine or sufficient food. In this Orwellian world, Free-Vee is all that keeps the poor going. Free televisions in every house and large-scale screens in the streets mean the government can put out any propaganda it needs to in order to keep the masses from rioting.

Many (all?) of the game shows on Free-Vee involve hurting people. The principals seem similar to those of The Long Walk, except you get paid for how long you can last - shows like Fun Guns, Dig your Grave, Treadmill to Bucks, and, of course, The Running Man. Most of these shows don't end up killing you - you just keep going til you collapse, or have a heart attack, or whatever. The Running Man, however, is different.

This is the show which Ben Richards ends up competing on. His daughter has pneumonia, and he can't afford the medicine for her, so he goes to the Games Building, looking for money. After a series of tests, he is selected for The Running Man, and put in a VIP suite until he is needed for his first and only studio appearance. In the studio, he is misrepresented as a violent sociopath, and the audience start jeering at him - exactly the way things are supposed to be.

In The Running Man, a contestant appears in the studio once, then is sent out into the big wide world with nothing but a camera and some clips for the camera. He has a twelve hour grace period before a man named Evan McCone and his Hunters start searching for him, intending to kill him. Also, the public play a part in the game - a verified sighting pays a hundred New Dollars, a sighting resulting in a kill pays a thousand. Catching the victim, sorry, contestant on film also brings pay-offs. The contestant himself gets a hundred New Dollars for every hour he survives, and another hundred for every cop or Hunter that he kills. The prize for surviving the full thirty days is a billion New Dollars. Unsurprisingly, no-one has ever survived. The contestant must post off two film clips every day, which supposedly don't reveal his location to the Hunters. Those are the rules...

The first thing Richards does is to get some false papers, and a disguise, then go to earth in the Brant Hotel in New York. There he shoots his first film clip (in a pillow-case so as to avoid having his disguise ruined) whilst falling asleep. The next day, he takes a trip to Boston, where he checks into the YMCA. Another film, and then he takes up watching the street from his window. After a while, he recognises undercover cops or Hunters, and realises he's caught.

Using a bit of wire, Richards takes the lift down to the basement and sets fire to the stacks of paper there, before escaping through a storm-drain. When he comes out, there is a boy near him who starts screaming until Richards persuades him that he is harmless. He befriends the boy (whose name is Stacey), who introduces him to the rest of his family, including his brother, Bradley. In the family is another ill little girl - this time with lung cancer, due to the high air pollution. It is from Stacey's brother that Richards learns how high this pollution is - most statistics on the Free-Vee are pure lies, and it's only through building a pollution counter that Bradley discovers the facts.

Bradley helps Richards escape from Boston to Manchester in the trunk of a car, gives him a priest disguise, a car, and some mailing stickers. Richards is to send his film clips to Bradley, who will then mail them to the Games Federation, so that Richards' location won't be discovered.

A few days later, Richards moves on, taking the disguise of a cripple whilst driving to Portland. There he goes to an address that Bradley has told him of - a friend of his called Elton Parrakis. Unfortunately, Elton isn't there when he arrives, and Elton's mother is dead set against him. Elton arrives and tries to calm his mother down, but after one night, she calls the police and both Elton and Richards go on the run.

After a long car chase, Elton dies and Richards is wounded. After one evening in a construction site, he hijacks a car with a woman named Amelia Williams. They head towards an jetport called Voigt Field in Derry. He uses Amelia to get safe passage through roadblocks, they make it to the jetport. Then he starts his major gamble.

He claims he has some plastic explosive in his coat pocket. He describes it to Amelia so that she can describe it to the authorities, and tells the authorities (who have him cornered at the jetport) that he will pull the imploder ring unless they arrange a plane for him in the next hour and a half. What he is using for his plastic explosive is, in fact, Amelia's handbag - it looks about the right size in his coat pocket. After a wait, he gets his plane, and boards it. He also demands that Evan McCone (the Chief Hunter) and Amelia come with him. Although everyone thinks Richards is bluffing, they have no appropriate truth drug on hand, so they can't be sure. Richards needs Amelia with him so they won't discover his secret.

They fly low to deter any attack on the jet, and after a while, Dan Killian, a Games Federation executive met in the Games Building, appears on the plane's Free-Vee to speak to Richards. He offers Richards a job - that of Chief Hunter. Several plot-twists follow here, most of which are too complex to go into now, but the final situation is that Richards ends up flying the jet alone - everyone else on the plane is killed by various means.

I forgot to mention earlier that the Games Building is a very high tower. Early on, Richards asks Killian who was in the top stories of the building, and Killian just laughed... now, Richards points the jet straight at the very same building...

Boom.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, I've been totally unable to get any of the atmosphere into this synopsis. This is one of the fastest moving stories King has ever written - probably the only story he's written that I'd class as an action thriller, and you'd have thought it would make a good film for that very reason. Sadly, the film is very far removed from the original plot. Not bad as it goes, just not as good as it could have been.

Jon Skeet


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