Remembering Richard Bachman, Stephen King's Schlockier Alter-Ego
In what, given a dark turn, could be a great premise for a Stephen King novel, Stephen King simply can't stop writing. To this date, the man has written 63 novels, with so many classics and forgotten gems that just reviewing the list unleashes a flood of nostalgia, like, well, a Stephen King character recollecting their Maine upbringing. Yet more interesting than merely stating King to be a prolific writer is noticing one curious way he dealt with his literary compulsion early in his career: his creation of an alter ego or a dark half, if you will.
The official story goes that the late '70s publishing industry deemed readers not to like authors putting out more than one book a year, something King himself disputes. As a response, he made up a fictional persona that would also allow him to test the idea that his post-Carrie success was a fluke. This fictional persona was Richard Bachman. During the late '70s and early '80s, indeed, the Bachman pen name meant a way for King to explore slightly more visceral, realistic horror, in comparison to the still-disturbing yet more psychologically and conceptually oriented works he was writing back then – think classics like The Shining, The Stand, The Dead Zone, or Pet Sematary. Anyway, here's King playing a character named Bachman in 2010:
I've never seen Sons of Anarchy, so I'll just assume it's an entire show about biker horror writer Richard' Anarchy' Bachman and his sons fighting monsters of the week and solving crimes.
So how are Bachman's books? They're pretty good, though the more recent ones are the weakest. These are 1996's The Regulators and 2007's Blaze. The Regulators was a companion piece to Desperation, rather its "mirror" novel, set in a parallel universe and featuring the same characters as Desperation undergoing different situations. Entirely taking place in a residential street in Ohio, The Regulators tells the story of several mysterious vans killing people and changing said street into something otherworldly. As for Blaze, here The Only Person Who Is Allowed To Diss Stanley Kubrick puts a paranormal crime story spin on the old Of Mice and Men formula, as it narrates a kidnapping plot by a petty, cognitively-challenged grifter and his – real? fantasized? – deceased best friend.
These novels were published after a fan outed King as Bachman around 1985. In fact, The Regulators' author blurb even says Bachman died of "cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia," which is witty, but come on, it's Stephen King we're talking about here. In any case, the true classics of the bunch are Bachman's pre-outing novels. The last one was 1984's better-known Thinner, which deals with a guy becoming morbidly obese as a result of a curse:
Thinner was the novel that ended Bachman's 'official' existence, and so it indeed marks a before and after. But prior to it, as we mentioned, is where the good stuff really lies. The Running Man, Roadwork, and especially The Long Walk can well be considered Bachman's three best novels. The Running Man is a cheesy tale about a thick-accent, one-liner-quipping Austrian brick of a man jumping around in spandex in a future version of American Gladi – no, wait, I'm getting mixed up, that's actually the Schwarzenegger movie based on it.
The 1982 novel is actually a thriller about societal chaos and desperate people driven to turn on each other by the corporate class in the dystopian year of erm… 2025? Damn – too real, Stephen, too real. So the thing's a reality show in which the novel's protagonist is given a 12-hour head start before having to be hunted by literally everyone.
Even darker is 1981's Roadwork, a novel about yet another economically desperate man, except in this case one pushed to criminal insanity after a series of personal tragedies are capped by the future demolition of his home in order to build a highway. Look, without spoiling what he actually ends up doing after losing everything, let's just say it may sound like a lame Uwe Boll movie premise, but it is actually, you know, good, having even become one of King's favorite early works. As for The Long Walk, it might be Bachman's best novel, up until its spine-chilling final line. It is also set in a militaristic future with a terrifying contest, just like The Running Man, but hey, if Michael Crichton could write two novels about theme parks and also Westworld, then King can repeat gimmicks as well. The point is: The Long Walk is about teenagers drafted into a walking contest where only one will reach the finish line, if you know what we mean. (We mean death.) It's like The Hunger Games, but less YA and certainly more horrifying.
And if corporate dystopias and economic anxiety weren't depressive enough, now we get to 1977's cursed novel, the first one Bachman published: Rage – totally unrelated to that awful Carrie sequel.
So let's just get this out of the way: Rage's about a school shooting. I know, topical, right? Anyway, King ordered it be let out of print in the late '90s, after a series of incidents connected to it, and as he himself said, that decision was "a good thing." Still, we hate to disagree with the master here, but is that really a good thing? Because if we consider his preferred genre, then any random Stephen King novel could inspire bad things in the world. It rather seems like the responsibility for stopping school shootings should not be in writers but in politic – you know what, whatever, violence bad, Stephen King good. Here's him being adorably funny:
Stephen King is too good for a world that managed to turn into a Stephen King novel.
Top Image: Stephanie Lawton/Wiki Commons