In the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the idea of wanting to publish more than one book per year and also to test if he could replicate his commercial success, Stephen King published a handful of novellas and novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. These are:
Complete Richard Bachman books list…
- Rage (1977)
- The Long Walk (1979)
- Roadwork (1981)
- The Running Man (1982)
- Thinner (1984) and later, after he had been outed
- The Regulators (1996) and
- Blaze (2007).
Rage is no longer in print due to its subject matter (a school shooting) but you can purchase the novellas The Long Walk, Roadwork and The Running Man (all excellent, particularly the long walk) in a collection called The Bachman Books.
I’ve given an overview of the dystopian novellas – The Long Walk and The Running man in my Death as Spectacle post. Both feature the idea of death as a spectacle for an audience’s entertainment – which weirdo that I am, I’ve always been drawn to in film and literature.
In Roadwork an angry and grieving man learns that both his home and his workplace will be demolished to make way for an extension to an interstate highway. In the original introduction to The Bachman Books, King stated that Roadwork was
“an effort to make some sense of my mother’s painful death the year before – a lingering cancer had taken her off inch by painful inch. Following this death I was left both grieving and shaken by the apparent senselessness of it all… Roadwork tries so hard to be good and find some answers to the conundrum of human pain.”
King also described his disappointment with the Roadwork novella – stating that he was of two minds about having it reprinted, but decided to in the end in order to give readers an insight into his personality at the time.
Over time, though, this seems to have changed. In a later edition of the Bachman Books introduction, King stated that Roadwork had become his favourite of the early books. I too find I prefer Roadwork now (as a sort of adult!) than I did the first time around. Maybe it’s because those are problems I just couldn’t connect with as a kid.
The Regulators was released as a companion novel to King’s Desperation. The two novels take place in different universes but feature many of the same characters.
In the Regulators an autistic boy named Seth is obsessed with a western called The Regulators and a cartoon called MotoKops 2200. With the help of an entity known as Tak, he gains the ability to bend reality to his will. Slowly changing his quiet suburban neighbourhood into a wild west caricature based on his obsessions. Meanwhile, the other residents of the street are being attacked by beings created by Seth’s imagination.
I personally like both these Novels, but if I had to choose I’d probably go with Desperation (travellers on a lonely desert highway are pulled over and kidnapped by a police officer, possessed by something extremely nasty.) Then if you like one, read the other.
Thinner is about a selfish, overweight man who accidentally kills a gipsy woman. He is cursed to keep growing thinner, no matter what or how much he eats. Pretty grim when you think about it! As he keeps losing weight he becomes increasingly desperate. Thinner is not one of my favourites, but it gets a lot of love, so that might just be personal preference.
When King was identified as Bachman, he wrote The Dark Half – about an author with a sinister parasitic twin who takes on a life of his own – in response to his outing. At the time of the announcement in 1985, King was working on Misery, which he had planned to release as a Bachman book.
I would say if there was a difference in style between King and Bachman it would be that Bachman’s books are darker and more cynical in tone. I can’t find the source any more, but I remember reading that King once said Bachman books were like Stephen King without the conscience.