Wednesday, December 12, 2018

WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN YOU DON'T EVEN GET "HALF A CHILD"? WILLIAM J. MCGEE ON A FATHER WHO LOVES HIS CHILD!


“Half a Child” is an incredibly moving story of a father who tries to maintain his stability and nurture his relationship with his son from the ages of two to five in the aftermath of divorce.  His struggle is conducted in the shadow of a family court system that completely disregards his role as a father.  Remarkably, the court does nothing to safeguard this father's relationship with his son despite the ongoing assault on that relationship via the other parent.  This story moved me deeply to the point where I kept on thinking of the story as a real story, even though it is a completely fictional account.  While Mr. McGee did undergo a very serious divorce of his own, which informs the novel, as he kept on repeating to me while the tears ran down my cheeks, it is indeed fiction.

At the beginning of the book, “Half a Child” by William J. McGee, the main character, Michael Mullen, speculates, “I don’t know that later I will say if I had known all the things I had not known at this time, I would have killed myself…”  As a family court victim myself, I feel that so many of us would make this statement, i.e. that if we had known the suffering and profound pain we had lying ahead of us, we might have killed ourselves right up front rather than endure what we ended up having to go through.  This is the most profound condemnation of the family court system itself, i.e. the fact that it evokes such images of desperation and despair in so many of the people who end up forced to use their services.  

The book pursues several themes with which family court victims are familiar.  For instance, right at the start of the book, Mr. Mullen’s ex simply seizes $14,000 from their joint bank account and the money never gets seen again!  

However, the most central issue is the Mother’s insistence upon first moving from New York City to Indiana with the child for a full year, and then subsequent to that choosing to move to Israel.  How is Michael Mullen supposed to maintain a relationship with their child if the other parent keeps on moving vast distances away?  Why can't Michael Mullen’s ex wife, a Ph.D. in psychology, obtain work in one of the best job markets in the country for psychologists?  Repeatedly, Mr. Mullen tries to get the family court system to address this issue of relocation in a fair and equitable manner, or even consider that he might just be the better primary parent, and repeatedly the system just gives the mother whatever she wants. 

There are mediation sessions, therapy sessions, and hearings, all of which disregard the bottom line truth—that if you can’t ever see your child on a daily basis, you can’t exactly have a decent relationship.  Instead, Michael Mullen ends up being the focus of vicious attempts to inflate minor incidents and reinterpret them as somehow damaging to the child. The most dramatic part of this novel is when Michael Mullen’s ex refuses to return their child for his scheduled time with his Dad.  This leads to international legal action to retrieve the child.  Nonetheless, remarkably enough, the mother still ends up with custody and the father is, for the better part, shut out of the life of his child. 

The consequence of this protracted legal battle of four years is the deterioration in Michael Mullen’s physical and mental health, even to the point where he puts lives at risk in his job as an air traffic controller.  In addition, his incompetent attorney drains him and his family of thousands and thousands of dollars.  Still, it is important to note that this is not a grim book. You end up knowing that Michael Mullen, a committed father if there is one, will somehow find a way to making sure he preserves that relationship with his child.   Further, if there is anything I can say, it is that this book is full of insight, some absolutely amusing moments, and intensely moving interactions between father and son.  I also want to give a shout out to Mr. Mullen’s car “Lovey”—talking about personality, the car is a character in its own right.

"Half a Child" is very respectful of both fathers and mothers dealing with the challenges of family court matters.  While it is honest regarding the intensity of the pain involved in a custody matter, it is by no means bitter or mean spirited.  However, I do want to launch one criticism at this book, which is that it promotes the idea that mothers have all the rights in family court at the expense of fathers.  As a long time, family court reform advocate, I can state categorically that the court is absolutely corrupt and vicious towards both genders, and that many speculate that since the establishment of the fatherhood initiative the advantage is solely in the fathers’ side.  This is an issue that requires further exploration.

William McGee is a native of New York City and obtained an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.  He has taught creative writing within a number of different contexts, and is the author of the book “Attention All Passengers” an expose of the airline industry.  At one point he was Editor-in-Chief of “Consumer Reports Travel Letter”.  He was formerly in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary and has worked in airline flight operations.  He is currently living in CT and being a Dad is an extremely important part of his life.

Like many people who have worked to create an outstanding piece of literary work which challenges a tough subject, Mr. McGee was unable to obtain a traditional publishing company to take on this book. As a consequence, it has been self published with the assistance of some outstanding professionals.  For instance, the striking cover design of two cars each with a parent and “half the child” is by Eric Hoffsten.  While this means that William McGee won’t have the top down traditional support of the publishing industry, I am impressed with how Mr. McGee has more than made up for this with his outstanding writing as well as his willingness to reach out to his audience wherever they are available—at bookstores, online, and at libraries.  I believe he can count on the grassroots to understand, appreciate and embrace his work, and I would encourage everyone to be a part of that movement.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"TRACER" BY ROB BOFFARD: WILL THE HUMAN RACE SURVIVE?

I would start this review of "Tracer" with an exciting intro, but since the author, Rob Boffard, himself has provided one for me (see below), I don't really have to!   



I hope everyone got that!  There is absolutely nothing dull about this guy--trust me.  He is smart, sharp, and honest.

"Tracer" is the story of Riley Hale, a young courier, one of a group, who runs around a decaying space station called "Outer Earth" which contains almost 1 million people. She delivers various items in exchange for food, drugs, and whatever she is able to barter for.  Central to these couriers' survival is the agreement that they will never look inside the packages they are carrying.  In this futuristic dystopia, Earth was long ago destroyed in a nuclear war and the remnants of humanity are struggling to survive in the space station despite food shortages, gang violence, crime, and an increasingly disengaged leadership.  

As the story begins, Riley is taking a new order over to the gardens when she is assailed by the Lieren gang and relieved of her delivery.  At first she thinks she is done for, but then the Lieren slink away once they discover what she has been carrying--an eyeball!  Riley is shocked to see the eyeball, but she quickly repacks it and delivers it to the customer.  

Thinking everything is fine, Riley returns to the hideout or "nest" where the rest of her team--the devil dancers--live off the grid.  But "no" the delivery has triggered the final phase of an ongoing plot that the Human Extinction Movement has been masterminding to destroy the space station and thus what remains of the human race.  

Can Riley and her fellow couriers known as the devil dancers overcome all the obstacles in their way and save the station?  

As a major explosion rips through the food producing sector of the Space Station, and the villain Oren Darnell takes control of the Station and begins to shut it down in preparation for its complete destruction, we can only bite our nails in anticipation of what could be the end of all humanity.  

If there is one word I'd use to describe this book, I'd say it's a romp, because as soon as you begin reading one event pulls you rapidly into another and then another at a breathtaking pace and it becomes impossible to put it down.  It only took me two days to finish this book because I found the narrative so absorbing and the dilemmas kept me so on edge I couldn't bear to stop reading until I found out what was going to happen.  

So let me tell you a little bit about Rob Boffard, the author of this book. Unfortunately, like many new authors, Rob Boffard essentially wants you to guess who he is because his "meet the author" page at the end of the book is two sentences long.  The basic information you get is that he is from South Africa and moves from location to location, i.e from London, to Vancouver, and then to Johannesburg and back around again.  As his day job, for the last ten years he has worked as a journalist for media outlets such as "The Guardian", "Wired", and other locations.  He is around 33 years old, and is married.  

But that is pretty much the bare bones information we have about Mr. Boffard; there is a bit more on his website, but don't hold your breath for it.  Keeping the facts to yourself is kind of a Sci Fi, Fantasy author thing to do, as I've noticed.  These kinds of authors just seem to hate including acknowledgement pages like everyone else has.  There is no, "And I thank my next door neighbor, Doug, for making this book possible."  None of that.   Plus, Rob Boffard is too cool for that kind of chitter chatter anyway.  

I would say overall that "Tracer" was a really exciting book to read and I enjoyed it incredibly.  That said it is a first book and it does have upsides and downsides.  I'll give you the downsides first.  

To a certain extent Mr. Boffard doesn't work sufficiently hard enough developing motivation with his characters which means that they can come across as one dimensional and there isn't that layered feel you might have in a better written book. Also, I ended up writing down several questions I had about where the plot was going and how it ended up, that, with a more skilled author, I would not have had.  These are the kinds of capabilities you learn with experience, not to leave holes and not to allow your readers to start going something on the level of "I thought you said...or...How can that be because two chapter ago you said..."  

Of course, I'm quibbling here on a very high level, because this is really an extraordinary book.  

When it comes to the upsides, I have to say this book has some of the most amazing fight scenes ever, to the point where I felt as though they were being choreographed by a master choreographer.  Two thirds of the way through the book, there is a scene where Riley needs to make it through a door which is protected by several police officers in order to save the Station.  I don't want to give away any spoilers, but what I will say is that this scene is one of the most masterfully written scenes I've ever had the pleasure to read in a Sci Fi/Fantasy book.  

I give Rob Boffard credit for his fresh approach to these kinds of scenes and his capacity to maneuver his characters through very complicated moves almost effortlessly, or so it appears.  It's that genius Mr. Boffard has in creating these breathtaking action scenes that makes you as the reader feel, "Oh my God, I just have to find out what is going to happen next!"  There's knives, there's guns, there is extreme heat, there is extreme cold, there are people all over the ship running amok, our major characters are getting injured and pushed to the point of death--it's just one thing after another!  In other words, it's just one heck of a darned good read and who cares about any minor flaws anyway!  

So I don't have much more to say here except after "Tracer" there are two more additional delightful sequels which I look forward to reading since I purchased the omnibus book including them in a single package.  So in due time, I will be reading them as well, i.e. "Zero-G" and "Impact."  

Just for a few final details regarding this omnibus book, it has a very intriguing picture of the Space Station rotating in orbit around the dead planet Earth with the sun creeping up the horizon.  I would say this dazzling art played a major role in catching my attention so I ended up purchasing the book.  This cover art was produced by Das Illustrat Munchen.  

Rob Boffard is represented by Literary Agent and Co-Owner Ed Wilson of Johnson & Alcock in London, England.  Apparently, Ed Wilson is the kind of agent who prefers to represent authors who will have a long term appeal and won't fizzle out with the most recent trends.  He is currently working hard at building his Sci-Fi list, and from what I hear, he is also open to thrillers, teen and YA.  My impression of him is that he is a loyal agent who really stands by his clients, as well as an intelligent and imaginative reader.  

My guess is that, as a writer, Rob Boffard is a craftsman and that we will continue to see him produce many more wonderful books in the future.  Luckily, he appears to have a literary agent who can partner with him in getting that task done.