The Best (and Worst) of The Bachman Books
This is a post in the same vein as my Best of The Hungry City Chronicles. This time around, however, I’m going to be looking at a four-book collection known as The Bachman Books, and instead of just the best, I’ll also be examining the worst (P.S. If you’re wondering what my least favorite of the Hungry City Chronicles is, it’s the original Mortal Engines.) in the collection.
As some of you literary buffs may know, Richard Bachman was a pseudonym by famous horror writer Stephen King. Under Bachman’s name, King published six books (although one was published when Bachman’s real identity was widely known)-Rage, Roadwork, The Running Man, The Long Walk, Thinner (which was a much more King-like story, incorporating horror elements), and The Regulators (which tied into another King book, Desperation). The collection features the first four, all of which are very unlike your average Stephen King book. Bachman books tended to feature much more realistic stories, often involving insanity, and having very dreary endings. So, let’s look at Rage!
Yeah, this is relevant. Rage is about an average high school kid named Charlie Decker, who has lived a surprisingly tortured life. Filled with the titular emotion, he grabs a handgun, shoots two teachers, and takes a classroom hostage. As negotiations with the police go on via the intercom in the room, Charlie transforms a group of scared teenagers into a psychology class/town hall meeting. Dark secrets go flying, fights start, but everybody seems pretty nonchalant about the two people Charlie shot. That is, except one kid, a popular kid who won’t stand for it. And so there’s a ton of flashbacks, emotional turmoil, and a kinda disturbing ending. Then again, what do you expect from something with this dark a concept? Pros:
- As cold as it might sound, the character of Charlie is kinda enjoyable. Okay, not enjoyable, but he’s certainly up there with Randall Flagg as one of the darkest yet interesting to read about characters in fiction.
- The narration is fantastic. Actually, the strongest point of the story is how Charlie seems to be simultaneously talking to the reader and to the hostage students. It’s great, and is worth reading the book for alone.
- The minor characters, whose names I can never remember, are also great, and how they develop into semi-psychos themselves by the end is fascinating.
- The only major issue I have with the story is how nonchalant the kids take it. Other than the sort-of antagonist, nobody seems to care, even though one of the teachers’ bodies is right there on the classroom floor.
Overall, I thought Rage was going to be my favorite of the four once I finished it. But then I started The Long Walk…
The Long Walk takes place in the not-too-distant-future, where America has become a totalitarian police state. Government squads take away dissenters, aand, that’s about it. No, really, other than omnipresent soldiers, there’s really no indication that this is a society any different from the America we know and (mostly) love. Except for The Long Walk, a yearly sporting event that has one hundred young men from all walks of life… ah, walk. Walk down through New England, to be precise, a hike with mileage in the triple-digits. You can’t go slower than four miles per hour, or else, if you do so four times, you’re dead.
Our story follows a kid named Ray Garraty, who takes part in The Long Walk, knowing full well he’ll probably die, but The Prize (literally anything you want for the rest of your life) is too hard to resist. So, along with ninety-nine other brave and stupid souls, he makes the walk. Does he win? Does he lose? Does he wind up smeared all over the streets of Augusta? It would be a very short book if he did! Pros:
- The Long Walk itself is very complex and interesting, with rules, records, and even a guy who oversees the whole operation (the Major, who I always imagine looks like Kevin Baugh)!
- The slow progress from sanity to screaming in the streets is a well-paced and well-done aspect of the story.
- The ending is WAY TOO VAGUE. Instead of mumbo-jumbo about a dark figure, how about some details about how it all ends, and what Ray’s life is like just afterwards.
And so we go on to what will probably be my least favorite of the four (I’m doing this one at a time): Roadwork.
Our story this time around follows Bart Dawes, a somewhat tragic figure (as in, he lost his only son to a brain tumor). Tragic goes to mind-boggling insane as he learns that his home and workplace will be demolished to make way for an interstate highway. Insert The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy joke here. As Dawes descends more into the signature King form of crazy (Which consists of constantly slurring and mixing words together and being haunted by dudes with strange names), his wife abandons him and, eventually, Dawes is forced to make a stand against the people who drove him to insanity in the first place. Pros:
- The ending is crazy and interesting and easily the best part of the entire book.
- There is a very insane and very awesome line at about the middle of the book that I swear is one of my favorite lines of any King book. But it’s too obscene for me to write here, so I won’t say it.
- Most of the book is just, well, boring. You could argue that it’s a gradual character study, but there are a lot of characters thrown in that I don’t really remember of particularly care about.
So, here’s the last one-The Running Man!
Sorry! That was the movie poster, and yes, a movie loosely based on the book was made. And it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. And yes, Bachman is quoted as the author in the opening credits. But that’s not the point.
THERE we go! It is the year 2025. America is now a police state, full of pollution and suffering. However, on your very own government-installed Free-Vee, you can watch sadistic game shows where people compete for New Dollars, with the slight (read: guarantee) risk of painful death. This time around, our story involves Ben Richards. Ben lives your average 2025 life: young child sick, self and wife just barely able to provide, and having to suffer at the hands of the government soldiers. But Ben is given a chance to make millions when he enters the most popular game show in the world, The Running Man! In exchange for the slim chance of earning a billion New Dollars, Ben has to outwit and outrun a highly trained team of Hunters, and send back two tapes to the studio every day for thirty days. Pros:
- Starts off very strong.
- Ends very strong.
- The middle could have been much better, and while the government pollution subplot was okay, it wasn’t necessary, or could have been done better.
- I’m sorry, whenever I try to visualize anything in this book, I always visualize stuff from the Schwarzenegger movie. Which is fun and all, but this ISN’T a shoot-’em-up action flick.
So, that was The Bachman Books! How do they add up? Very well! Rage and The Long Walk were interesting and enjoyable. Unfortunately, The Running Man and Roadwork (the latter especially) suffer from being just, well, boring. I’ll say my worst first, since it’s a pretty easy call.
For worst, I’m going with Roadwork. It has an extremely good ending and epilogue (as well as an insanely awesome obscene line), but the rest of the book is uninteresting and forgettable. It would have worked much better as a short story. It isn’t awful, but it’s certainly skippable.
For best… this is a tough one. I pick Rage. While The Long Walk is a very close second, Rage was so darkly enjoyable, it had to be my favorite of the four. The character of Charlie was so twisted and yet so sympathetic, and the entire mood developed so quickly (perhaps unrealistically so, but my point still stands) from frightened to vicious, it had to be my favorite. Check it out if you haven’t already.