Rest in Peace, Richard Bachman.
Richard Bachman died in 1985 of “cancer of the pseudonym” after his name was leaked to the media. He left behind his wife, Claudia Inez Bachman.
As Stephen King uber-fans know, Richard Bachman was a pen name of King–a name born of a self-imposed desire to find out whether his newfound success was because of talent or luck. Oh, and because of the fact publishers back in the 80s thought more than one book published in a year would be unacceptable to the public. (Now that thought is unacceptable! Bring on all the books!)
From the birth–and death–of the Bachman pseudonym, came seven novels over a 28-year timespan. Here they are in a 100% infallible, non-disputable, factually accurate ranking.
7. Rage (1977)
Rage is classified as a psychological thriller novel. It touched many nerves, as the novel itself describes a troubled young man named Charlie Decker, who was the perpetrator of a school shooting. The book itself is touted as the reason for several school shootings in the 80s and 90s, and this fact bothered King so much he allowed Rage to fall out of print. He also no longer signs any copies of Rage at book signings.
For a long time, it was available only as part of the Bachman Books, a collection that also included Roadwork, The Running Man, and The Long Walk. Suddenly, it appeared to not be in the Bachman Books anymore. The only answer King gave: “Now out of print, and a good thing”. In its place, he wrote a non-fiction essay titled “Guns”, where he later elaborated on his reasons for letting the book fall out of print. All the profits from the essay’s sale went to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
6. The Regulators (1996)
Bachman’s widow “found” The Regulators in a trunk, and The Regulators was published at the same time as its mirror novel, Desperation. The Regulators touches on the fear the citizens of Wentworth, Ohio, feel while being terrorized by a demonic entity named Tak.
I thought it was clever to release two novels at the same time, and even more cool and clever that the hardcover first editions of both Desperation and The Regulators, when set side by side, make a complete painting. The book itself was a bit bizarre and a bit different from King’s normal fare, and while I couldn’t quite connect with it, it was still a good read.
5. Blaze (2007)
This is another one of the Bachman novels claimed to be “found” in an attic, when in actuality, Blaze was written before the novel Carrie. A man known as Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., or “Blaze” kidnaps a rich man’s infant son to please his friend, George Thomas Rackley. However, George is little more than a figment of Blaze’s imagination, and whatever advice and tidbits of knowledge George give to Blaze during this kidnapping venture do little more than lead Blaze down the long and winding path to his death.
This book ranks a little bit higher than The Regulators because I found it to be a little less bizarre. Blaze seems more like an exercise in character rather than a straight-up ghost story, which I can appreciate.
4. Roadwork (1981)
An unnamed man living in an unnamed Midwestern city lost his son, lost his marriage, and is about to lose both his job and his workplace. Why? His home and workplace will be demolished by the construction of an interstate highway. He refuses to leave, as his home and workplace are the only things he has left in his life. It becomes a one-man standoff between him, the roadwork crew, and eventually, the police.
While it ends in a rather over-the-top dramatic fashion, what is interesting about Roadwork and what makes it a good read is that it’s an Everyman (as you do not find out his name until later on in the novel) in an Anytown. King does his level best to make sure you connect to this Everyman with a common factor: human pain. And indeed, human pain is universal, which Roadwork does an excellent job of showing.
3. The Running Man (1982)
The Running Man, later made into a film of the same name, was written in a single week. It’s set in a dystopian America in the year 2025, where a man named Ben Richards resides in Co-Op City. He cannot provide for his family and has fallen on hard times. Desperate for a way out for himself and his family, he turns to a station that produces violent game shows, the Games Network. He’s chosen to be in the hottest new game show, called The Running Man. The rules? A 12-hour headstart. Network-employed hitmen, known as the Hunters, are sent out to kill you. You earn $100 per hour that you stay alive, an additional $100 for each Hunter and law enforcement officer killed, and you earn a grand prize of $1 billion after 30 days. Let the games begin.
The dystopian settings left me in awe, and perhaps a bit of disgust, at what the world became. Chaos leads to extreme order, and extreme order leads to desperation and rebellion. The Running Man showcases this very well.
2. Thinner (1984)
Thinner was the last of the Bachman novels released under the Bachman pseudonym until the release of The Regulators. A morbidly obese lawyer, Billy Haleck, is responsible for the death of a gypsy man’s daughter. Because Billy is friends with the judge, the case is dismissed. The gypsy man, Taduz Lemke, waits for Billy outside of the courthouse on the day his case is dismissed. He strokes his cheek and whispers one word: “Thinner”. With this, Billy is cursed to lose weight…and to keep losing it.
I normally don’t like stories about curses, but when I first read this book, I read it in one sitting. I felt sorry for Billy, who is condemned to die for a horrible accident, and for Taduz Lemke, who lost his daughter in that horrible accident. In Thinner, Billy and Taduz can be seen as both the good guy and the bad guy in equal measure. Both are right, and both are wrong. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition.
1. The Long Walk (1979)
Another of the Bachman books set in a dystopic future, The Long Walk features an annual contest of sorts. Every year, 100 young men walk to have the honor of being the “last man standing”. To become the last man standing, you have to outlast 99 others in a walk, literally, for your life. Each Walker has to maintain a speed of 4 miles per hour. If a Walker drops below that speed for 30 seconds, he receives a warning. Three warnings and you receive a ticket. In other words, three strikes, you’re out. The last man standing receives the Prize, which is anything and everything he could ever want.
I’ve worn out three copies of The Long Walk for one reason, and one reason only: the friendships between the young men on the Walk. Each is doing this for their own reasons, that at times even they don’t understand. They bond together as friends and enemies. Much like with Thinner, The Long Walk strikes this balance equally well and it also shows you that in the face of horror, there are still bright spots and points of happiness.