The book has a total of 101 chapters, laid out in a "countdown" format. The first is titled "Minus 100 and Counting..." and the ensuing ones are similar, with the numbers decreasing, until the last one, "Minus 000 and Counting"
The story's protagonist, Ben Richards, is a citizen of Co-Op City in the year 2025. The world's economy is in a shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. Richards is unable to find work, having been blackballed, and needs money to get medicine for his gravely ill daughter Cathy. As a last resort, Richards turns to the Games Federation, a government-mandated television station that runs violent game shows. In one game, Treadmill to Bucks, a contestant with a heart or respiratory condition runs on a treadmill earning prize money for the duration of their run, often dying in the process. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards meets with Dan Killian, a producer with the Games Network, and Bobby Thompson, host of The Running Man, the network's most popular, lucrative, and dangerous game. Richards has been selected to appear on this show.
Richards is declared an enemy of the state and released with a 12-hour head start before an elite group of "Hunters", Games Network-employed hitmen set out to kill him. The contestant earns $100 per hour he remains alive, an additional $100 for each law enforcement officer or Hunter he kills, and one billion "New Dollars" if he should survive for 30 days. The record time for survival is eight days and five hours - a mark that Richards eventually surpasses.
The runner is given $4,800 cash (a two-day advance on his winnings) before he leaves the studio. He can travel anywhere in the world, and each day he must videotape two messages and courier them to the TV show. Without a videotaped message, he will be held in default of his Games contract and will lose the prize money but will continue to be hunted indefinitely.
As the game begins, Richards obtains a disguise and false identification records, traveling through New York to Boston. In Boston, he is tracked down by the Hunters and only manages to escape by setting off an explosion in the basement of a YMCA that kills five police officers. He narrowly escapes through a sewer pipe. Next, he hides in the impoverished Boston ghetto, and meets gang member Bradley Throckmorton and his family. From Bradley he learns that the air is polluted on a massive scale, that the poor are kept as a permanent underclass, and that the Games Network exists only as a propaganda machine to pacify and distract the public. Richards attempts to incorporate this information into his videotaped messages, but finds that the Network censors them and dubs over his voice with obscenities and threats against the public.
Bradley decides to help Richards, smuggling him past a government checkpoint to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he disguises himself as an elderly, half-blind priest. In addition, Bradley provides Richards with remailing labels so that the Network will not be able to track Richards by the postmark on his videotapes. Richards spends a few days in Manchester, but dreams that Bradley has betrayed him after being tortured. He travels to a safe house owned by a friend of Bradley in Portland, Maine, but is identified and reported by the owner's mother. As the police and the Hunters close in on the safe house, Richards is wounded, but manages to escape.
The next morning, after arranging to mail his tapes, Richards carjacks Amelia Williams, takes her as a hostage and makes his way to an airport. Richards holds a lengthy standoff at the airport and manages to bluff his way past Evan McCone, the lead Hunter, onto a plane by pretending he is carrying high-quality plastic explosives.
He takes both Amelia and McCone as prisoners, and has the plane fly low over heavily populated areas to avoid being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. However, he is soon confronted by Killian on a video call, who states that he knows Richards does not have any explosive as the plane's security system would have detected if he did. His cover blown, he is surprised when he is offered the job of lead Hunter. He is hesitant to take the job, worried that his family will become a target. Killian then informs him that his wife and daughter were brutally murdered ten days earlier, even before Richards first appeared on the show, and gives Richards some time to make his decision. Richards falls asleep, and dreams of his murdered family and a gruesome crime scene. With nothing left to lose, Richards overpowers the flight crew and kills McCone but is shot and mortally wounded. He allows Amelia to parachute to safety, and with his last strength, he overrides the plane's autopilot and flies the plane into the Games Building, home of The Network.
The book ends with the plane crashing into the tower, and the description, "...and it rained fire twenty blocks away."
The story was adapted into a film in 1987.
|The Bachman Books|
|Rage • The Long Walk • Roadwork • The Running Man • Thinner • The Regulators • Blaze|