Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Finish Line & The Bachman Books

This entry is part 64 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

This blog comes at a very inconvenient time.

See, I’ve taken a week off work to catch up on my blogging and to finish the latest draft of my book, and things have been going well.

I’ve been working hard. Getting up before eight I’ve been reading my latest Man vs Bookshelf book until around ten; then I’ve been getting to write, stopping for lunch and dinner but in the main going and going until after midnight.

Talk about commitment.

I’ve got my to-do lists, and I’ve been sticking to them as baddies stick to cars.

That simile doesn’t make sense unless you know Spider-Man is involved.

Anyway, I’ve been alternating between editing a chapter of my book (which also involves reading through and editing the last three before I start so everything gets edited four times) and writing or scheduling a blog.

Using this method I have knocked off four or five blogs and come within spitting distance of finishing my book.

And I can’t spit far at all.

I just finishing editing chapter 29, the penultimate chapter and, because I hate books that have their climax then drag on for another 50 pages (or 300 – looking at you, Tolkien) it’s going to be an exciting chapter.

I want to get into it now, but I’m a sucker to my to-do list order, so here I sit, writing this review, thinking I should get through it as fast as possible.

In which case, I probably should have skipped this intro…

Okay, on with the review, then I’m off to finish my latest draft of The Black Sheep’s Shadow.

Richard Bachman and Me

As we all know, pseudonyms, as Richard Bachman is, are for losers.

Which is a funny thing for me to say, so long as you know Mark Ayre is also a pseudonym, which I guess you don’t?

Whatever, since this challenge began I have read nine Stephen King books already – Lisey’s Story, which came second in Man vs Bookshelf, followed later by the Dark Tower series (including the Wind Through the Keyhole).

In the former of these, I spoke about my past knowledge and readings of Stephen King so click here to check that out.

Regarding my experiences with Richard Bachman I remember, a long time ago (and I think I mentioned this in my Lisey’s Story review) I took out The Dark Half from the library. It may even have been the first King I ever read.

At the time I didn’t get on with it, but it was interesting to know the history of it, having been written after Richard Bachman was discovered to be King, and being about an author retiring his pseudonym only for said pseudonym to come to life and start killing people.

Since then I bought The Bachman Books, containing the second, third and fourth books by Bachman (discussed below) and have read the very first Bachman Book – Rage.

This last I almost certainly would have read, had I not learned that King had let it go out of print because he didn’t feel it was appropriate for sale anymore.

I was able to get a copy (hello, internet) and I enjoyed the book – though given it is about a kid who hijacks his class with a gun and proceeds to kill people, it’s clear to see why King might not want it out there.

Still, as one of the very first books King finished, it’s incredible to see just how high the quality of his writing was from very early on.

Made me hate, just a little bit.

The Bachman Books

There have been several editions of the Bachman books. The very first contained the first four books written by King as Bachman – Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), The Running Man (1982)

As discussed above, the first of these books has been allowed to go out of print, as has the collections containing it.

From what I can see, following this, The Bachman Books ceased to be available in America except as individual books.

Nope, I’ve checked, and it turns out this is a horrible lie. There is still a version of The Bachman Books available (published 2012) with The Long Walk, Roadwork and The Running Man collected in it, same as are collected in the version I have. It seems in England this same book is also available.

As is well known, King originally published these books without marketing or fanfare, partly to see if they would become as popular as his Stephen King books (they didn’t) and secondly because his publishers were worried about oversaturating the market by releasing more than one King novel a year.

It took a fair amount of time before it was confirmed King was the same as Bachman, but it’s easy to say how he might have got away with it.

Yes, the style is very King (it would be, wouldn’t it?) but writers do sometimes have the same style, and the subject matter is different.

Sure, these books are dark as hell, like King’s, but look at his early publishing history for King and Bachman –

  1. Carrie (1974)
  2. ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)
  3. The Shining (1977)
  4. Rage (BACHMAN) (1977)
  5. The Stand (1978)
  6. The Long Walk (BACHMAN) (1979)
  7. The Deadzone (1979)
  8. Firestarter (1980)
  9. Roadwork (BACHMAN) (1981)
  10. Cujo (1981)
  11. The Running Man (BACHMAN) (1982)

and you’ll notice the King books are about a girl with telekinesis (Carrie), a town taken over by vampires (‘Salem’s Lot), A hotel that kills people (The Shining), the end of the world and a battle between good and evil (The Stand), A man who can see the future after an accident (The Deadzone), a girl with pyrokinesis (Firestarter) and a possessed dog (Cujo).

Namely, there is a supernatural element to all of these books (Assuming I remember Cujo right).

The Bachman books, on the other hand, contain no supernatural elements. Two of them are set in dystopian futures, but there is no magic. The middle – Roadwork – is about a man taking a stand as the government tries to tear down his road.

This, I think, helped to hide King for as long as he was hidden.

Besides, if no one could tell Damon Beasley was the lead singer of Gorillaz, how were they going to know Bachman was King?

Point proved.

The Long Walk

The first of this collection of novels is both the only one I have read before and also by far my favourite.

Its premise is simple. A group of hundred boys take part in an event where they walk at a minimum of four miles an hour as far as they can.

Every time they drop below four miles an hour they get a warning. If they get three warnings in three hours and fall below four miles an hour again, they are shot by soldiers at the side of the road.

It is a huge event. People flood to the roadsides to watch it as they might the Tour de France or marathon in the real world.

Other than the opening few pages, where the boys arrive, the entire story takes place on the road.

It does not seem like this can be that engaging, and certainly not can last the 320 odd pages it does.

But it is, and it can.

Over the years King has been described as one of the greatest character writers of all time. It is well known is not so interested in plot, and this shows in many of his stories, which can be ponderous, and slow moving. He picks a set of characters and lets them do their thing within a given situation, i.e. the end of the world, trapped in a car as a dog tries to kill you, a dome coming down over your town.

Nowhere can this be much more obvious than in The Long Walk.

The kids walk, talk, and occasionally get shot. We start with 100, and we end up with one, and it is utterly engaging and enthralling throughout.

Despite its Bachman status, this is one of my favourite King novels, right up there with Lisey’s Story and Under the Dome and far more interesting than Duma Key and ‘Salem’s Lot.

I remembered mostly how it went from that last reading, but that took nothing away.

This is a great tale, and if you read just one Bachman Book, I’d make it this one.


At the other end of the enjoyment, scale is Roadwork.

It’s a good book, I suppose and has a lot of good points, but I found it a bit slow, a bit dull. It was the longest of the three books, and I felt like it should have been the shortest.

The story centres around a man whose house is going to be torn down to make a new motorway (yeah, just like Arthur Dent) and he isn’t happy about it.

According to his introduction, King wrote this while trying to make sense of his mother’s death by cancer a year earlier, and this comes across in Bart’s inability to let go of the house in which his son grew up, grew a brain tumour, and died.

At times it was difficult to read, as Bart fell further into depression and madness and threw everything away – job, marriage, sanity.

At times it was dull, and I found myself skimming pages, and at times it was terrific. Scenes between Bart and a local mob boss were always great value, as were those between him a young hitchhiker he picked up while driving up and down the motorway.

I often find it tough to read books about people who throw their lives away, and this was no exception, but I can see it is a good story.

Unfortunately, just not one for me.

The Running Man

The shortest of the three books, King claims the Running Man was written in around 72 hours and published with almost no changes.

The first claim is impressive, but not so tough to believe. As someone who has experienced what can happen when you fall into your writing and go and go, I can see this. I wrote the first draft of my current novel, The Black Sheep’s Shadow in around a week and was knocking out 15 thousand words a day, so that computes.

The fact it was then published with almost no changes I find amazing. For King to write in such a fever and not have to change any story elements is impressive but then, I guess, that’s what happens when you have such an incredibly creative mind. One able to make it up as you go along and still foreshadow with such brilliance.

God, I hate him.

The Running Man is probably the best known of the Bachman Books due to the Arnold Schwarzenegger adaptation, but I hear that’s quite loosely adapted, so forget about it.

The book is about a man who is poor, and looking for a way to earn money to get his dying daughter the medicine he needs.

To achieve this, he signs up to take part in a game of the insidious Games Corporation. Through this he is entered into the most popular game – The Running Man – where he has to escape hunters, cops and the entire country for thirty days to win a grand prize.

As you might expect from a book written in 72 hours, it is fast-paced with no pauses for contemplation.

There was not the character portrayal of The Long Walk, but it is a fun book right through. Perhaps not one I would read again, but certainly worth a read if you are in to dystopian. Sci-Fi fiction.

Which I’m not.


An excellent collection of early King novels that take us away from his usual topics.

A real mixed bag in terms of quality with The Long Walk being brilliant, the Running Man being good, and Roadwork being only okay.

Worth a read for any King fan.

Next Up

We’re heading to France. 

I know, sounds horrible, but don’t worry…

It gets worse.

The lead character is Scottish. 

You guessed it – it’s an Extraordinary People, the first Enzo McCloud mystery by Peter May. 

See you then. 

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Thanks for NothingMan vs Bookshelf: Book 100 & Extraordinary People >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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