Book Review: “The Running Man” (Stephen King)

Summary: Dystopian thriller of prescient vision

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website:

Review: Stephen King wrote this novel very quickly under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. He talks about this in the book’s prologue. As many reviewers point out, he also provides a major spoiler. So don’t read that first (unless you don’t care).

Ben Richards lives in squalor and because of his refusal to punch it in like other cog fodder for the rich elite, he is outcast and unable to find suitable work. His refusal, as explained, is a refusal to put himself into a horribly unhealthy work environment. Unfortunately his idealism has caused the family unit further financial woes and his wife is forced to forsake her marriage vows to make ends meet. What could be worse? Well, how about a young child who is suffering from a curable aliment, but one which the protagonist cannot afford the medicine. Richards hates this and it spurs him into taking his idealism into full bloom, which he does by signing up for a game show that can earn the family money based on how long the participate can stay alive. If you survive for a certain amount of time, then you are home free, but of course nobody ever has.

The game show uses the complete world as its stage. The protagonist literally is a “running man” being chased by man hunters who will kill him when they find him. The whole thing is televised and the general public can earn money by reporting on his location. A further twist, is that Richards has to video record himself twice a day and mail the tapes in by a certain time – otherwise he’s disqualified (oh and the man hunters will still kill him). Although, it’s claimed that the game show won’t use his mailings to track him – it’s highly suspect.

Before Richards begins, he is advised by the game show’s dubious host to hide out among his own i.e. the poor (as they are the only ones who probably won’t turn on him). Richards takes this advice to heart. What follows is a maddening thriller of short successive and numerically titled chapters that count down toward the end. You can really picture yourself, as the main character. Where do you go? What do you do? Your face is plastered all over the state-run television system and everyone in the entire world will know your face and likely be motivated to turn you in for money. Do you run? Do you hide? King does a great job of letting you feel the natural paranoia that would accompany such a scenario. Every person the protagonist passes by, every time Richards stops to rest he thinks – they know! They found me out already!! Even if he can’t be sure, he can’t risk sticking around to find out. He must just keep moving.

And yet, it would be almost impossible to go it completely alone. You would have to trust someone, somewhere, sometime. Again King does a good job of fleshing out the other people who Richards inevitably comes into contact with and whom he must decide whether or not to trust (sometimes without option). Through Richard’s interactions with others, we get a bigger sense of his world. This story is set in a dystopian future where the government’s manipulation of media and culture gets into 1984 type levels. The divide between poor and rich has become ocean wide, to the point that the “have’s” now even have a different currency system. Not surprisingly, we learn the powers that be are likely furthering the subjugation of the poor by worsening environmental conditions and then lying about it.

Which brings out another good thing about this book, there is a struggle in the main character between looking out for his own interest (surviving the game how to provide money for his sick and struggling family) and fighting the oppressive powers dominating the poor. He knows its bad out there for everyone. Oh how he knows, how he has lived it. In fact, it’s so bad, that he’s decided to give up and make a last bid for money as he “checks out”. A sort of giving up. This is what the totalitarian regime wants. Don ‘t care don’t try. Just give in and play along. A classic scenario. And yet, the more the regime tries to get Richards to play along, the more he starts to wake up. To evolve. Suffice to say, the story culminates to a grand conclusion (that won’t be ruined if you don’t read the prologue).

As far as Stephen King goes, this is a fast fast fast book! It reads very quickly and is devoid of his usual long-winded descriptions. You know that a Stephen King book (whether written as Bachman or as himself) is going to be written at a certain level – and this book is no exception. I would definitely recommend this story for those who don’t know King outside horror. He’s written in a lot of other genres – and done it quite well. Though, you still get his mastery of scaring. There is a particularly suspenseful and frightening scene involving a sewer pipe and raging fire that kept me quite on edge and is totally classic King.

All in all an enjoyable read. Perfect science fiction, dystopian, thriller for a plane ride or vacation trip. And a great introduction to King’s talents for those (few) who might have overlooked him all these years.

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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Book Reviews


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Mildred – trending in Top Ten FREE list on Amazon

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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in News


Mildred – a tale of psychological suspense – FREE for Kindle

My new story, MILDRED, is free at Amazon today:

Synopsis: A diary, noises from the attic, a resident cat, and piles and piles and piles of boxes cast shadows over Josephine as she digs through her new home and discovers the disturbing circumstances surrounding her purchase of the place.

Book Trailer:

Get it now for free before it’s too late!


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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in News


Book Review: “The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane” by Robert E. Howard

Why was I not taught about Solomon Kane when I learned about the pilgrims in middle school?

Swashbuckling tales of adventure and voodoo. Solomon Kane, the vigilante fanatic driven by demons to journey the world in a relentless and endless quest to destroy as many evil doers as he is physically capable of until he meets his own demise.

First of all, this character is impossible and defies all reason. Solomon Kane is a puritan in puritan garb, but armed with daggers, a sword, pistols, a musket and a voodoo staff. He is not a priest, but an avenger of evil. This character is the reason why people like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger had careers. There is something in the minimalist stroke of these kinds of characters that strikes deep within our souls. They may not be fleshed out or shown in full-color but their limited scenes, dialog and emotions gets across very quickly who they are and what they are all about. They are not flat; they come across by all the mastery of a genius stroke. Robert E. Howard was a master at this, focusing his short-lived but prolific career on powerful characters that stick with you.

Like nearly all of Howard’s works, Solomon Kane came alive in the serial magazines through short efforts. Given those parameters, Howard’s talent clearly shines. Every story he told, he had to reset the character for new readers without overloading on back story (he does this sometimes in just few sentences!). And yet, the stories do sometimes relate back to each other and the character seems to progress within his own timeline.

At first Solomon Kane tangles with evil men in England and Europe, but as the stories progress he ends up in Africa and the tales range beyond swashbuckling, and into the “weird” spaces where Howard excelled. Here, Kane, befriends various African tribal peoples and eventually is given his famous stave which he uses as both a weapon and ward against black magic. These elements really get fun when the protagonist is beset with demons and the undead. He even gets into Conan and Kull territory when he has to navigate through ancient temples and secret passages.

Yet, Solomon Kane is all his own. He is a lean and cold, efficient avenger of justice. Howard does not bury the story with scripture quotes or biblical conspiracies like many modern authors might be tempted to do, but he does occasionally pepper in elements of religious and secular history. Solomon Kane is also uninhibited by most earthly desires, he has virtually no love interest and has little curiosity in women except a brotherly protectiveness. Again refreshing (in that he doesn’t fall into classic romance tropes).

This character clearly has a code and keeps consistent, but he is not without struggles. Chiefly he struggles with some strange and mysterious drive that sets him wandering the world waiting for God to lead him to wrongs that must be righted in an almost Calvinist trajectory. He frequently admits that he is a fanatic and will explode in great, violent, berserker furies. This can cause problems for him when his impulses drive him to save the helpless in a rash and gallant move where a more prudent measure might be better served. He also cares deeply for the innocent and good. And there are interesting scenes of inner turmoil where Kane finds, to his dismay, that even his superior fighting and cunning cannot save all the world; and he must occasionally be satiated only with savage acts of revenge and the satisfaction that he has at least temporarily rid some small plot of land from a long-plagued evil that had resided there.

On the negative side, these stories were written long ago and Howard suffered from old worldviews on race and evolution (and probably sexism). He was very interested in history and makes many references to racial histories, but there are parts that are somewhat cringe worthy if not offensive. That said, and keeping a historical perspective in mind, Solomon Kane’s stories have much merit in them, sometimes refreshingly so. Of note, Howard receives his voodoo staff from an African shaman whom he later dubs his “blood-brother” and he is often found coming to the rescue of African tribes being tortured or oppressed. To be sure, Solomon Kane, is intolerant of all evils whomever may perpetrate them and whomever they may be perpetrated against.

Stephen King has made comments to the effect that when Howard hits his stride his writing is charged and electric. This is so true. Howard’s words fall into a soulful, blues-groove and speed you along with emotion. You feel the rains beating down and the fury and frustration of Solomon Kane as he screams out against the evil in the world. Like Howard’s other characters, it’s personal. Which is really amazing, because again this is not a novel and the character spends much of his time hacking and slashing his way through adventures. Still, somehow, someway, and where others have failed—Robert E. Howard always manages to find the right beats and notes to strike a chord in the soul and draw you into his characters. If J.R.R. Tolkien is the “Led Zeppelin” of epic fantasy, then Robert E. Howard is the “Jimmie Hendrix” of heroic fantasy.

This book is a collection of (probably) everything Howard ever wrote about the character including a few poems and unfinished stories (even though others have tried to complete these fragments only Howard’s original words are presented here). The book is also illustrated throughout and contains a scholarly appendix, short bio on Howard and a few words from HP Lovecraft on Howard’s untimely death. A very great addition for anyone looking to get into Howard.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website:

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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Book Reviews


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Review: “The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane” (Robert E. Howard) and “Solomon Kane” (Michael Bassett)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly:

Check out this new episode of my podcast:

Originally posted on No Deodorant In Outer Space:

June Review – Episode Six


Listen to the podcast here (click to play/right click and select “save target as” to download):

Episode Five – The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane – Solomon Kane*


Ryan: 4 Stars “…there are interesting scenes of inner turmoil where Kane finds, to his dismay, that even his superior fighting and cunning cannot save all the world…

Wilk: 4 Stars “…I liked this book but I am known to like crap…

Rick: 1 Star “…The character of Solomon Kane is a blood thirsty sadist with a death wish for all blokes that are not into the English Protestant god, English tea, boiled meat and side of blood pudding…

(Click the links to read full written reviews on


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“The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane” by Robert E. Howard

Book: “The Savage Tales of Solomon…

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Posted by on August 2, 2014 in Podcast


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Book Review “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (Philip K. Dick)

A mind-bending dystopian hero’s quest through the looking glass?

Summary: An impending sense of desperation pervades this gloomy romp of Dick’s arguably most famous work. The author’s prose, sometimes criticized, is a swift reading. In trying to keep up with the schizophrenic twists and turns of the story—I think that the digestible writing is well balanced. Though the dialog can be stiff in parts there is so much depth in what is going on, the work as a whole would suffer if weighed down by verbose diction.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website:

*** * *** SPOILER WARNING **** * ***

Review: Rick Deckard is chasing after six renegade androids in a post-apocalyptic earth. He’s a government agent/bounty hunter, whose main task is retiring escaped androids who are trying to blend in among humans. Sounds dangerous and exciting? Maybe. However, Dick gives the character a sort of “everyman” approach. Deckard is good at what he does, but it’s just a means to an end. And what is that? Well, that’s life baby. Deckard is just trying to get through the day like everyone else, and bring home a decent paycheck so he can afford the latest, coveted creature-comforts.

In this world, that means real-life “animals.” Deckard needs to make money so he can buy a live “animal,” now a luxury in a world where nearly everything seems to be rock, plastic, metal or kipple (more on that later). World War Terminus has already rocked the planet sending a vast majority of human emigrants into the skies to establish new colonies on mars. The earth has emptied out a good number of people, and for good reason as the planet’s covered in radioactive dust. So many animals have since died off, that now it’s considered “chic” to own one. So much so that a whole cottage industry has rose up around creating fake robot animals complemented with fake veterinarians. In keeping up with appearances, Deckard replaced his recently died sheep with a robotic one. And yet he can’t quite get over it. He want’s a real one damn it, and he’ll destroy as many androids as he has to so he can make enough money to do so.

He needs to. His marriage with wife Iran is strained. Everyday they dial-in their appropriate feeling for the day through the help of a bedside console known as a Mood Organ. One of my favorite lines of the book is when Deckard is trying to get his wife to dial in a happier mood from the console and she resists claiming: “My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” (!) And yet, even though Deckard also tries to enhance his mood with the console he remains gloomy. He’s out their searching, looking for some kind of connection. His job is starting to weigh heavy on him and all he can do is hold out a little longer until he can find that next “thing” to set matters right.

Iran (and Deckard to a different extent), finds some solace in the world religion known as Mercerism. The faith is a sort of communal virtual-reality experience where people of the world connect with one and another by watching a repetitive video of an old messiah-like figure plodding through a barren landscape of rocks. Mercer (the mysterious figure) toils along while getting occasionally stoned (and I don’t mean with drugs) by unseen forces, until he goes over this giant hill into the mysterious Tomb World. For some inexplicable reason, the worshipers, who engage this religion (also through a handheld console), experience the stoning. They even come away from the engagement with real-life injuries (though not severely). Iran seems to get something from this religion, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, which may be important in a world where mankind is slowly being siphoned away to distant planets.

Whether or not this religion is genuine is up for debate – but then, that’s faith. There is an interesting subplot woven through the story where a 24-hour vapid TV personality host attempts to debunk this would-be messiah as a fake. Dick manages to blend the lines between the virtual, spiritual, and physical world in a way that makes the reader question what is real (in a good way). Can we ever really know? Deckard finds that Mercerism, or his faith, or is it his humanity, cannot be so easily dismissed by a television expose.

As the messiah character toils uphill amid flying rocks, the reader can’t help but feel Deckard’s plight. Retire some androids. Make a little money. Buy something fancy. Then do it all again. Why? What’s the point? Mercerism seems to indicate that that is the point of everything. That’s what we all do. We slowly climb our hills, get a few rocks flung at us, and keep going. To where? The Tomb World? Who knows. The point is, we all have to do it. Nobody is exempt. It’s just a little easier to take when we can commiserate our woes with everyone else. To know we are not alone.

That’s what makes us human. Separates us from the androids. Good old-fashioned “empathy”. In fact, that’s virtually the only way (besides bone marrow testing which will require a warrant) Deckard can determine if someone is really a some thing. Deckard must administer a verbal psychological test and monitor the reaction of the suspect with the help of yet another special device. But as technology increases, the androids are becoming harder and harder to detect—some of the androids don’t even know themselves that they are androids due to false memory implants (in classic Dick fashion even robots have to question what’s real and what’s not). In a great plot point, the author let’s us know that the tried and true “Voight-Kampf” android test has flaws. Apparently, people with mental issues or “flat affects” might elicit a false positive which puts Deckard in a conundrum because he doesn’t want to be blowing away real-life humans.

The fear of finding a false-positive is not fully realized though. Much like the fear that the androids are going to “retire” Deckard before he can retire them. Dick shies away from action-packed cliff-hangers. We don’t completely fear the danger that Deckard will be killed off by an android, even though his predecessor was severely hospitalized by one and unable to speak to him about it. As other reviewers have pointed out, many of the android confrontations are over as quickly as they start. To his credit, I think this keeps the focus on the more important esoteric questions being raised rather than the adventure story used to illuminate the issues. We are there, with Deckard, wondering just as he is, why he’s doing it all? If he’s killed off, we’ll that’s not the main stake here—his sanity, sense of self, sense of morality—those are the things at stake.

Even though the androids are definitely not human, they act and feel much like humans. Deckard sees this and he struggles with it, sympathizing for the androids he is seeking to destroy. One of the female androids, Rachel, seduces Deckard, putting him in a very precarious position as she tries to influence his actions. Things get really weird (is that even possible) when Deckard is picked up by the police, who seem to know nothing about him. This is Dick in his complete mastery. Deckard is held at a “second” separate police station and questioned in such a manner that we really begin to doubt who the androids really are. Is Deckard an android? Are these “other” policemen androids? Deckard even gives himself the “Voight-Kampf” psychological test at some point.

Near the end, Deckard is really questioning himself and Rachel’s influence weighs heavily. Still, he plods along, determined to finish what he’s started. The messiah-like figure Wilbur Mercer (hence “Mercerism”) suddenly appears in the real world (as opposed to the one on the tv screens which may or may not be real) to help him through.

For me, the most jolting scene in the whole book is when Deckard comes home after having completed his mission. After knowing he’s earned his bounties he decided to finance the purchase of a real-life goat. It’s a capitalistic bid for happiness, but Deckard seems sincere in his effort. After all his hard work and toil he comes home only to be told by Iran that Rachel (the android he’s spared), pushed the goat off their building to its death. Deckard seems to have done all for naught.

This would have been a real poignant place to end. However, we continue on with the character for a few more chapters when he lumps it, and heads out into the vast desolate wilds of the world. Again, things go from strange to stranger when Deckard begins toiling up a real life rocky hillside that too closely resembles the one Wilbur Mercer is always climbing. When at last he comes down again, he happens upon a little toad. Amazed, he looks up the animal in his trusty catalog and finds out they are supposed to be extinct. Suddenly, everything looks hopeful again. To have a found a real life animal—an extinct one! He’ll be able to sell the thing for untold riches. Deckard races back home to share the news with his wife. Tenderly she flips the animal over and points to the electrical panel beneath. Another fake. Defeat again.

Yet, Deckard returns home, not to plug in to the mood organ and zone out of life. Instead, he falls asleep. Unaided and disconnected from the artificial technologies of his world. He seems to get some comfort from being near to his wife instead of all the contraptions of the world. And, the android Rachel, by killing his goat, has shown him the foolishness of letting his happiness rely solely on materialistic things. Perhaps Deckard’s relentless pursuit of the androids was rote and mechanical. Was Deckard acting the part of the android in his role as bounty hunter? Did the androids act more like living things in their urge to resist “retirement” (or death)? Maybe Dick was trying to say that it is our actions that define us, rather than what we may claim to be?

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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: “The Stars My Desination” (Alfred Bester)

Pure drive. Raw Emotion. Hate-fueled revenge. A widget caught in a cog. The stick jammed into the spokes of a bike being peddled at a furious pace. Gully Foyle is the consummate anti-hero.

The prologue reads like a 1930’s era carnival barker explaining the physics of self-teleportation (“jaunting” as its called here), which settles you in for a decent piece of golden age science fiction. Ok fine. Good, in fact.

However (as others have noted), you won’t be prepared for the opening twist (spoiler warning) or the main character and his gutter speak and impetuous personality. Gully Foyle is the “id”. An arrow of emotion shooting through the cosmos, belligerent and beautiful (in a way) We find this out very quickly. His character is fully realized with all its quirks, weight and lurid faults (which he is certainly not without).

Foyle was traveling on a spaceship that got shipwrecked in outer space. Everyone is dead save him. His ship is pocked full of holes so that he must eek out a miserable survival locked in a closet taking only occasional and dangerous ventures out into the hull to gather supplies before his oxygen (and food) runs out.

Then it happens. He spots a passing ship and signals for rescue. The other ship circles in for a closer look, and then inexplicably jets. Gully is abandoned. And that’s where everything changes. The book is not about surviving in the vastness of space. No. Instead it turns into a fast-paced, high-stakes adventure story centering on revenge. Gully Foyle dedicates his entire existence to finding the ship which abandoned him to suffer in outer space (and any associated with it).

Here Foyle dons a figurative superhero persona and blasts off after his opus magnus. In many ways he reminds me of Robert Howard’s Conan or Kull, in that Foyle is strength beyond strength–and his sheer strength of will helps him to manage to best those with far greater intellect and resources then he has.

Suffice to say, I cannot do the book justice in a simple review. And perhaps it may be a little too much for casual readers of the genre (although the science is not overwrought) the time shifting and mental state of the main character provide adept twists and turns. Indeed even the words themselves bend out of time on the page (which is my only real criticism cause it felt a bit gimmicky–and yet given the subject matter it is forgivable).

Others have commented that the characters in this book are mostly one dimensional, yet there are some very interesting almost comic-book like characters (the author did write comic books after all). However, I would counter that the characters do enough interesting things, and are invested in the plot in enough interesting ways, that they are not single beat notes there simply to counter the protagonist.

Foyle’s rage tangles him into cool and interesting plots. It also serves to drive him off-track and give him every-increasing perspective at what he is doing. And each time he is knocked off the rails of revenge and resets, he sets the stakes higher and grander. He turns a personal vendetta into an everyman war.

One last point I’ll make is that this book paints some great visuals without overdoing the verbiage. I kept picturing this set in a stylized color saturated film of ultra real visuals. When Gully is running across the landscape, beating his feet furiously after his revenge quest — you feel it. Even through the eyes of other characters. You just feel the emotion driving him. Its compelling.

Do yourself a favor and check out this book. It’s the kind you put down and then say “wow”.


Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Book Reviews


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