Here are a few thoughts, put down originally in 2007, on Melanie McGrath's Hard, Soft and Wet - an inoffensive, but rather non-essential auto-biographical story describing her experiences with the online world. My, how times have moved on!
Where to start?
Firstly, a few misconceptions from the front cover:
- The title, pornographic as it sounds (or is that only me? search for the title on Google at your own risk...), refers to the Hardware, Software, and Wetware (ie humans – what a limited definition) that today’s world of IT requires. Not sure she really ‘got it’, though. The whole thing and its interactions seems to continually be slightly out of her grasp...
- The subtitle/tag line (The Digital Generation Comes of Age) is a load of rubbish, and most likely the result of a brainwave by some marketing droid. The story is about Melanie’s love affair, and eventual disillusionment with the online world.
So we’re following Melanie’s discovery of the online world during a trip to a friend in the US. From thereon we follow her on her travels, always chasing understanding of the ‘new world’, all things technological and online; and, most likely the eternal question of youth and future (the future, as well as hers specifically).
On the way we find love affairs, technical problems, all the people she meets (isn’t it great to be a journalist and have access to all the famous and special places?). It’s also telling to see how quickly all things go back to meeting IRL, in the flesh – she uses the web to make contact with her subjects, and visits or meets up.
Initially she keeps going back and forth between the UK (where she lives – East London to be precise) and the US, where her friend Nancy is to be found, but in the last third of the book things accelerate, and she visits Ireland, Germany, Czech, Russia, the far East…
And we learn about political views (not hers), the youth of today (not her, either), music and media (just a little), and plenty of name dropping. Did I mention that she is a journalist already?
Melanie McGrath is a journalist (yup) and writer living in London. To date she has three novels to her name (all of them auto-biographical to some degree), and some articles in newspapers. There must be more than her website shows, but, seeing how web-savvy she is, it is perfectly possible that things are a bit out of date…
Overall this is not a bad book, just not a very relevant or essential one. It is rarely boring or overly long, but it doesn’t capture you, it doesn’t hold your interest, and, at least for me, didn’t provide any real information or entertainment; and, it has to be said, it takes itself entirely too serious.
Avoid unless seriously bored, there’s so much better stuff out there on the topic. If you’re interested in travel/technological discovery then I recommend you read Bruce Sterling’s ‘Holy Fire', which shows how such stories can be done if you leave the author and his/her shortcomings out of it.
More Melanie McGrath
Title: Hard, Soft and Wet
Subtitle: The Digital Generation Comes of Age
Author: Melanie McGrath
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher: Flamingo, HarperCollins
Publication Date: 1998
Review Date: 2 February 2007
Price: very cheap on the Interweb, these days