Death as Spectacle

List of fiction featuring Humans hunting Humans or Death Games.

There’s a form of speculative fiction that I’ve always had an odd sort of fascination with that explores the idea of death as a spectacle for an audience’s entertainment, or some sort of warped political or ideological reasons. Often set in some sort of dystopian near future setting.

Of course death as spectacle is not a new phenomenon. Just think about the Gladiator arenas, public executions, the death penalty, live streaming of manhunts on the News. When you look at how reality TV is pushing the boundaries further and further with people willing to debase themselves or face real physical harm for their 15 minutes of fame. And a hungry audience lapping it up. I guess it’s not such a far leap to imagine some sort of future where hunting other humans, or death matches for entertainment, might be reality. Maybe that’s where the fascination lies (or maybe i’m just a sicko!).

It’s quite easy to find films in this genre, but novels seem less prevalent. Listed below are some of my favorites. I hope there are some new discoveries on this list and as ever, any suggestions for me will be gratefully received!

In no particular order…

Novels where humans hunt other humans

1The Sound of His Horn

The Sound of His Horn is a 1952 alternative history novel by the senior British diplomat John William Wall, written under the pseudonym Sarban. This odd little number has been included in several lists of the greatest fantasy novels of all time.

Alan Querdillon an escaped POW is fleeing through a forest, when he runs into an invisible barrier which burns him and knocks him unconscious. He wakes in a Nazi controlled world at least a hundred years after World War II on the estate of the Reich Master Forester, Count Hans von Hackelnberg. I won’t go into any spoilers here, but the whole thing is fantastically weird. The book fits the theme, that’s all I’ll say!

2The Running Man

You may be more familiar with the film, but The Running Man was originally a novel published by Stephen King, under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

The Running Man takes place in a violent, impoverished United States during the year 2025. The Running man of the title, is a game show where the contestant is released with a 12-hour head start before the Hunters, an elite team of ruthless hit men, are sent out to kill him. The longer the contestant stays alive and the more Hunters he kills, the more money he earns.

The protagonist Ben Richards is forced into signing up out of desperation. Richards aim is not to survive – that’s impossible. Simply that he will last long enough to accumulate enough of a prize to secure his family’s future.

3The Long Walk

Another entry from Steven King writing as Bachman. I hesitated to add this, as technically this book is about an endurance challenge. But my guess is if you’re looking for books in this Genre, the distinction is academic. And this short, nasty novella is classic King (well Bachman)

Set in a future dystopian America, ruled by a militaristic dictator, each year 100 young men take part in a grueling walking contest. The contestants must walk until they drop. If they stop, or drop below a certain pace they are shot, until only one is left standing.

Fun Fact.. While not the first of King’s novels to be published (that of course was the wonderful Carrie), The Long Walk was the first novel he wrote, having begun it in 1966-67 during his freshman year at the University of Maine.

4Battle Royale

Like a lot of people I discovered the book through first viewing the film.

The story tells of junior high school students who are forced to fight each other to the death in a program run by the authoritarian Japanese government, now known as the Republic of Greater East Asia.

5The Hunger Games

Another book in this genre that has been translated into film. In my opinion the books are much, much better then the films.

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock these last few years! The Hunger Games is set in the future, post-apocalyptic nation of Panem in North America. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, exercises political control over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games is an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death.

6Deliverance

Did you know this was also a novel? Again doesn’t 100% fit the theme but interesting to know if you’ve only seen the film. And if you haven’t seen the film… you definitely should!

7The Manhattan Hunt Club

The novel follows the story of Jeff Converse, who finds himself hunted through a subterranean New York by a group of the city’s most powerful men and women.

8The Seventh Victim

I’ve only seen the film the Tenth Victim (Staring Ursula Andress) but it was based on a short story by Robert Sheckley. Which apparently has a slightly different ending and is written from a different viewpoint.

The story concerns a future society that has eliminated major warfare by allowing members of society who are inclined to violence to join The Big Hunt, a human hunting game.

9The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous Game is a short story by Richard Connell. The story features an experienced big-game hunter Rainsford who, while traveling by sea to the Amazon to hunt jaguars, falls overboard. He swims to a nearby island where he finds a palatial chateau, home to the aristocratic General Zaroff, and his deaf-mute servant, Ivan.

A life long big game hunter himself General Zaroff has grown bored of the usual prey, because it no longer challenges him. You can probably guess what happens next. If not… The Most Dangerous Game is now in the public domain, so you can read it online for free.

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