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Nicole McLaughlin’s Designs Are No Joke


Her tongue-in-cheek approach to sustainable fashion sends a serious message: The only way to combat overconsumption is to produce less and repurpose more.

Nicole McLaughlin in her Brooklyn studio. Her designs are fashioned from repurposed materials, such as outdoor recreation gear.


Nicole McLaughlin, a conceptual artist focused on sustainability, loves coming up with names for her creations. A beanie made from jeans is a “jeanie.” Shoes constructed from sushi are “shoeshi.” A bra whose cups are two bagels, a “bragel.”

Though her projects may be more tongue-in-cheek than others in the world of environmentally conscious design, the message is the same: The only way to combat overconsumption is to produce less and repurpose more. Most of the clothing and fabrics discarded in the United States end up in landfills; the volume of textile waste increased by more than 800 percent from 1960 to 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Ms. McLaughlin, through her designs and advocacy, wants to encourage people to repurpose the items they buy instead of throwing them out.

In addition to scavenging for materials in her home, she trawls thrift shops, resale websites and textile disposal sites for discards that can be upcycled. “When I look at material that already has shape or structure or a seam or zipper, it gives me a jumping-off point,” Ms. McLaughlin, 28, said in a video interview from her studio in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. “There’s no rule book in upcycling. Every material is a challenge as to how I’m going to disassemble it and make a new thing out of it.”

Her studio includes a climbing wall.

Ms. McLaughlin grew up in an outdoorsy family and has been climbing since 2016.



Her creations have earned her recognition in the music and fashion industries. ASAP Mob and J Balvin are fans. Jhay Cortez has pulled pieces for his music videos. Pharrell Williams wrote the foreword to a 2021 book that showcases Ms. McLaughlin’s designs. She has worked with numerous brands including 
PumaCalvin KleinPrada and Hermès. Recently, Gucci commissioned her to recreate its top-handle Diana bag; she used old volleyballs, rather than new leather, for the body.

“People wanted to buy the bag, which wasn’t the goal,” Ms. McLaughlin said. Alessandro Michele, of Gucci, had asked her and five other artists to create the designs to help promote the brand’s heritage. But, she said, if repurposed volleyballs could get consumers excited, maybe luxury brands might consider other ways to incorporate recycled materials.

Ms. McLaughlin was raised in Verona, N.J., in an outdoorsy and creative family. Her father was a carpenter when she was growing up, and her mother is an interior designer.
She went on to study photography and digital art at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she began a graphic design internship at Reebok in Boston, Mass., working with the company’s logos. Eventually she was hired full time.

During her off-hours, she began experimenting with discarded shoe uppers, soles and laces, gluing, stapling and sewing them together in unexpected ways. “I wasn’t on a mission to be a sustainable designer. It was purely out of exploration,” she said. “I felt inherently guilty about working in an industry that wastes all this stuff, so I tried to use it.”

Ms. McLaughlin began posting her creations — often featuring repurposed items from big brand names — on Instagram, where her work earned a following. At Reebok, someone mentioned her designs in a pitch meeting without realizing an employee in the room had made them. Hearing her work discussed in that context gave her the confidence to leave her job in 2019, move to Brooklyn and start freelancing as an independent designer.

“I definitely think that the way I learn best is just hands-on,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “I like the challenge of teaching myself something — I’m not usually the one that opens the box and reads the instructions. I’m more the one that just tries to, you know, put it together and figure it out.”

Ms. McLaughlin said that the outdoor recreation industry has been a sustainability pinoeer. “A lot of outdoor brands are driving the conversation,” she said.

A climber since 2016, she has long been drawn to “gorpcore” materials: fragments of fleeces, off-cuts of ripstop and tangles of zippers, cords and carabiners. “Outdoor gear has a very tactile, utilitarian feel, with pockets, bright colors and carabiners where you can attach things,” she said. “My pieces may not look functional, but they are and I like surprising people with that.”

She believes that the outdoor recreation industry has pioneered sustainable practices in fashion and retail more broadly. “A lot of outdoor brands are driving the conversation,” she said. “They’re the most willing to collaborate and supply me with materials.” In 2021, she became the first design ambassador for the Canadian outdoor brand Arc’Teryx and began hosting upcycling workshops with the company’s excess materials.

Her love of the outdoors and climbing complements her creative work, she said. “The problem-solving element is definitely why I enjoy both climbing and my job,” she said. “I’m constantly using my brain to figure out how to make something work.” Sometimes the relationship between life and art is more literal: Once, when she misjudged a move while climbing and injured her arm, she fashioned a sling from a patchwork of North Face jacket swatches.

Ms. McLaughlin sells most of her creations at raffles and auctions for charities. In 2021, she raised $20,000 for the Slow Factory Foundation, which is focused on climate change and social justice. In April, a jacket she created in collaboration with eBay sold for $2,800 as part of a fund-raising capsule for the Or Foundation, another organization focused on the relationship between environmentalism and fashion.

In addition to her fund-raising efforts, Ms. McLaughlin hopes to educate individuals about sustainable design. She posts TikTok tutorials showing her construction process — such as making a tote bag crop top, or a croissant bralette — under the handle @upcycle. “I always want others to feel inspired to create things themselves,” she said. “Making the process feel more obtainable is my goal on TikTok.”

There’s a strong secondhand and D.I.Y. spirit among Gen Z, she said — something she aims to encourage. “If you buy something with a hole, you can repair it, you can hem pants,” she said. “These skill-sets help throughout your life as a consumer.”

Eventually, Ms. McLaughlin hopes to start a nonprofit connecting companies that have surplus material with budding designers. “My vision is to provide resources to young people who are entering this world of climate change and climate justice,” she said.

In May, Ms. McLaughlin decamped to Boulder, Colo., in order to have more access to nature. She’ll keep her Bushwick studio, returning occasionally for work.

“There’s something so special about New York City,” she said. “It’s an energy that can’t be replicated. I love the idea of coming back here and feeling inspired.”

Someone made an Infinite Jest movie and it's interesting


By Mallory Brarand

If you’re a Collegiate upperclassman taking English electives, odds are you’ve seen one of your classmates lugging around a novel thicker than any textbook. And if you’ve ever taken a moment to ask them to sum up the book, they look at you and say, “It’s complicated.” Though I personally have never taken Upper School English teacher Dr. Z. Bart Thornton’s Postmodern Novel course on Infinite Jest, I did recently get the opportunity to watch one of the most intricate projects I’ve ever seen: Myles Byrne-Dunhill's Infinite Jest.

As a certified Infinite Jest expert, Thornton has been teaching and studying the novel for many years. In an article he co-wrote with one of his students, Madeline Nagy (‘14), for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) magazine Independent Teacher, they summed up the novel: 

“David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest unfolds in the near future. The United States has merged with Canada and Mexico; northern New England has become a toxic waste dump palmed off on the Canadians. Quebecois separatists–many of them in wheelchairs–prowl the lower states, performing terrorist acts…. Citizens spend their time fearing global pandemics and watching entertainment cartridges. One of these cartridges—highly sought—produces in its viewer a state of blissful, and fatal, catatonia. 

Infinite Jest is set largely at a Massachusetts tennis academy founded by a mad genius and at a residence for recovering addicts just down the hill.  The novel explores the price we pay for our frantic pursuits. We meet intellectual tennis prodigies and wayward teenagers, professional football players, avant-garde filmmakers, and middle-aged people struggling to find a community that will lead them to the Higher Power that will help them change their lives.”

After watching Myles Byrne-Dunhill's film multiple times, I can confidently say I had no real understanding whatsoever of the plot of Infinite Jest. So, heeding the advice of Thornton, I looked up various synopses of the book. Through these brief summaries of the thousand-plus-paged book, I learned that the story is anything but linear. It weaves in and out, jumps back and forth through time, consistently creating new narratives and motifs. I recognized many of the plot points in the synopses from scenes in Dunhill's film. For example, both the synopsis and the film include scenes set at the tennis academy and the halfway house. 

When I first heard about this video, I thought it was just another ordinary fan film. But upon further inspection, Dunhill’s production was anything but. From the first time I watched it with my friends, I could tell that an immense amount of time and effort was put into creating the various scenes and characters. The video’s description reads, “We aimed to capture the spirit of the writing while also creating a captivating viewing experience.” From the costumes, to the locations, to the music selections, to the opening and closing credits, I think it is fair to say that they succeeded.

Though completely lost the entire 2 and a half hour duration of the film, I was intrigued by many of the shots I witnessed. My favorite scene comes at the very end of the film. Loach, styled in what seems to be a western bandit outfit, demands, in French, that a tied up Craig tell him where the film titled “The Entertainment” is. I pieced together, with help from both the film and the synopsis, that “The Entertainment” is a film produced by the founder of the tennis academy that “is so captivating that anyone who watches it either wastes away watching it on repeat or harms themselves for a chance to see it again.” Craig’s character, maintaining that he doesn’t know where the movie is, then dies in a theatrically creative shot, showing Loach killing Craig in a shadow. 

For example, Dunhill says, “sourcing dialogue from the book itself,” was a major challenge, since the novel’s length made “finding a specific moment or passage… a lengthy task.” Also, since the movie is significantly longer than a regular student video project, “Editing took a lot of hard work, and Stan’s computer was barely up to the task. By the end of the process, the laptop was almost non-functional and extremely slow due to the size of the file. I remember there was one moment when I thought I had accidentally deleted the entire movie,” said Dunhill. 

Though the process of creating this film was long and grueling, Dunhill made it through to create an incredible full-length film. Dunhill says that the two of them “very much trusted the other’s ideas without question,” in order for the sequencing and editing to go smoothly, and that “moments like when we would put in a music clip and it would fit perfectly made the whole experience worth it.”

If you’re wondering whether Thornton’s Postmodern Novel course is right for you next semester, the filmmaker describes it as “intellectually challenging” and “rewarding.” And of course, if you’re looking to get a sneak peak into the depths of Infinite Jest or just enjoy a masterfully executed amateur film, watch Myles Byrne-Dunhill's Infinite Jest.

‘You Don’t Become Lou Reed Overnight.’ A New Exhibition Proves It.

“Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars” offers glimpses of a life in rock ’n’ roll — from doo-wop to “Metal Machine Music” — and tracks the evolution of one of music’s polarizing legends.

At a glance, it is a modest artifact: a five-inch reel of audio tape, housed in a plain cardboard box. Its wrapping bears a postmark of May 11, 1965, and the sender and addressee are the same: Lewis Reed.

But if there is a “Rosebud” in Lou Reed’s archive — a telltale totem from youth — this is it. The box, still unopened, was found in Reed’s office after his death in 2013. It was only after the New York Public Library acquired his materials four years later from Reed’s wife, the artist Laurie Anderson, that archivists finally opened it and played the tape. What they found were some of the earliest known recordings of songs that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground, his groundbreaking 1960s band, in stripped-down, almost folky acoustic versions that may leave fans and scholars stunned.
The tape is at the center of “Lou Reed: Caught Between the Twisted Stars,” the first exhibition drawn from Reed’s archive, which will open on Thursday at the Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center.

Pages from Reed's yearbook.

A red tape box containing bootleg Velvet Underground cassettes.

The packaged postmarked May 11,1965, that Reed sent to himself, which contained some of the earliest recordings of Velvet Underground songs.

The full archive is enormous, with about 600 hours of audio, along with videos, correspondence, legal paperwork and forms of documentation that range from photos of a White House visit in 1998 to endless petty-cash receipts from life on the road in the 1970s. There are tour rehearsals, audio experiments, handwritten lyrics, stacks of Velvet Underground bootlegs and even Coney Island Mermaid Parade banners from 2010, when Reed and Anderson served as king and queen.

To Anderson’s delight, it is available for exploration by anyone with a library card, although, as she notes, the full character of Reed himself — irascible, sentimental, obsessed with sound and tech — can’t be conveyed from his scraps.
“This collection is to inspire people,” Anderson said in an interview at her TriBeCa studio, where a portrait of Reed performing in dark shades looms on a wall. “It’s not necessarily to say, ‘Here’s the real Lou Reed.’ That’s never what it was meant to be. Here’s a lot of his music and how he did it. Be inspired by it. But it’s not and can’t be a real picture of the man.”

For the show, Laurie Anderson lent some of Reed's guitars and tai chi weapons, which are not part of the library archive.

Anderson said she had originally intended to give the archive to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, home to the papers of literary giants like James Joyce, Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo. But she changed her mind in 2015 after a law was passed in Texas allowing people to carry handguns on college campuses.

“I called them up,” she recalled. “‘This thing we’ve been talking about for a couple years? It’s off. Because of guns.’”
A few months later, Anderson read an article in The New York Times about a program at the New York Public Library to digitize archives, and began discussions there.

The exhibition, which runs until March 4, 2023, has a sampling of items from Reed’s complete archive, which takes up 112 linear feet of shelf space and has 2.5 terabytes of digital files, making it one of the library’s largest audiovisual collections. The show was curated by Don Fleming, a music producer and archivist, and Jason Stern, who worked with Reed in the last few years of his life.

A Christmas sweater Reed received as a gift that showcases the cover art from his album "Transformer".

Reed's handwritten lyrics for "Sally Can't Dance".

The box housing some of Reed's collection of 45 r.p.m. records.

Visitors will first encounter a video of Reed calmly reciting the world-gone-to-hell lyrics of “Romeo Had Juliette,” from his 1989 album “New York” (“Manhattan’s sinking like a rock, into the filthy Hudson what a shock”), establishing Reed as poet, provocateur and chronicler of Manhattan’s demimondes. Further galleries showcase Reed’s time with the Velvet Underground, his solo work and his poetry, and a listening room will feature the meditation music Reed created as a practitioner of tai chi and an immersive version of “Metal Machine Music,” his notoriously abrasive 1975 album.

The artifacts offer glimpses of a life in rock ’n’ roll. A small box houses part of Reed’s collection of 45 r.p.m. records, with some of his teenage doo-wop and R&B favorites like the 5 Willows’ “Lay Your Head on My Shoulder” and Huey (Piano) Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It,” along with Reed’s own high school rock band, the Jades. There are boxes of Velvet Underground recording tapes and receipts for purchases as mundane as coffee and as striking as a studded dog collar that is almost certainly the one Reed wore on the cover of his 1974 live album “Rock ’n’ Roll Animal” ($13.50 from Pleasure Chest on Seventh Avenue).

Most endearing is a set of holiday greeting cards from Moe Tucker, the Velvets’ drummer, which address Reed as “Honeybun”; the ones on display are just a sampling among the many held in the archive. The collection has none from Reed, but “every Valentine’s Day he’d send Moe a card,” Stern said.

For the show, Anderson also lent some of Reed’s guitars and tai chi weapons, which are not part of the library archive.

Except for Reed’s personal Rolodex, every item in the library collection is accessible to the public. Discoveries have already been made, like a previously unknown song, “Open Invitation,” that was found on a cassette from the mid-80s — a rock ’n’ roll tune about tai chi, the martial art that became Reed’s great passion late in life.

Just last month, Fleming and Stern realized they had misdated a tape labeled “Electric Rock Symphony,” assuming it was a 1970s demo for “Metal Machine Music.” After examining the tape further, and comparing its audio to that of others in the collection, they now believe it was made in 1966, or possibly 1965, a sign of how long the “Metal Machine” technique — feedback-driven guitar drones, adapted from the composer La Monte Young — had gestated.

Reed's college diploma and dean's list award.

Holiday greeting cards from Moe Tucker, the Velvet Underground's drummer.
Reed's motorcycle helmet.

The biggest discovery so far is the May 1965 tape. Reed had shown it to friends, though its contents were unknown even to the Velvets’ most determined bootleg hunters. Featuring Reed playing acoustic guitar and harmonizing with John Cale like coffeehouse folk performers, the tape’s versions of “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Heroin” are miles away from the explosive sound the two young men would develop just months later with the Velvet Underground.

On Aug. 26, the specialty reissue label Light in the Attic will inaugurate a series of Lou Reed archival albums with the release of “Words & Music, May 1965,” with 11 cuts from that tape, along with other early recordings. Among those early tracks is Reed softly singing the spiritual “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” in 1963 or 1964 with fingerpicked guitar accompaniment.

For Anderson, those tapes are a sign of the twisting path that Reed took to become an artist. “That’s a valuable thing for people to understand,” she said. “You don’t become Lou Reed overnight.”

Reed may have mailed the tape to himself as an attempt to establish copyright. But why he never opened it, and yet kept it so close to him — it was on a shelf filled with his own CDs — is a mystery.

“It’s amazing that he had this document from his very first songwriting with him the whole time,” Fleming said. “He just kept it there. He didn’t need to open it.”

An astrological chart reading for Reed.

Tapes from Reed's archive, including an interview with the former Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Receipts for stage clothes and alcohol.

The library exhibition includes a listening room where versions of “Metal Machine Music” will play, interspersed with the “Electric Rock Symphony” tape and a track from Reed’s ambient album “Hudson River Wind Meditations” (2007). “Metal Machine Music” will be heard in its original quadraphonic mix — for four speakers, rather than the two of a standard stereo recording — and listeners can experience an immersive live document from 2009 of Reed’s group Metal Machine Trio.

The story of the 2009 recording, made in the three-dimensional audio format known as ambisonic, shows Reed’s lifelong fascination with technology, as well as his mix of toughness and sensitivity.

In an interview, Raj Patel of Arup, the acoustic technology company that made the recording, recalled meeting Reed in 2008, and finding him intrigued but skeptical about the format. He eventually agreed to let Arup tape a performance in New York, with microphones placed around the venue and onstage, including just behind Reed’s head — to let listeners hear how the performance sounded from Reed’s own perspective.

A week later, Reed arrived at Arup’s studio, prepared for disappointment. After listening for about five minutes, Reed raised his hand to stop the music. Tears were welling in his eyes.

“That,” Patel recalled Reed saying, “is the best [expletive] live recording I’ve ever heard.”

A promotional banana.

The sci-fi genre offering radical hope for living better

(Image credit: 
María Medem) 

By David Robson

In these times of cynicism and despair, is 'hopepunk' the perfect antidote? David Robson explores radical optimism, and why it matters.

Alexandra Rowland didn't mean to spark a new artistic genre. In 2017, however, the fantasy author had a moment of inspiration. Rowland had been contemplating the rise of grimdark – the subgenre of fantasy fiction typified by George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (the inspiration for the TV series Game of Thrones) – which emphasises the flaws in human nature, and focuses on our capacity for cruelty.

But what could describe literature that instead focuses on our capacity for good? "The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on," wrote the author in a short post on Tumblr. The post soon went viral – and by 2019 the term had entered the Collins English Dictionary, defined as "a literary and artistic movement that celebrates the pursuit of positive aims in the face of adversity".

Various works of fiction – including the Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett's Discworld series – have now been labelled as examples of hopepunk, along with a slew of contemporary writers.

"Cautionary tales are very important," says Becky Chambers, one of the leading authors associated with the hopepunk movement, who has won a much-coveted Hugo Award for her sci-fi Wayfarer series. "But if that is all that you have, you risk nihilism." 

If you feel wary of optimism, you are far from alone – writers and philosophers across human history have had ambivalent views of hope

In the midst of current political, economic and environment uncertainty, many of us may have noticed a tendency to fall into cynicism and pessimism. Could hopepunk be the perfect antidote?

If you feel wary of optimism, you are far from alone. Writers and philosophers across human history have had ambivalent views of hope. These contradictory opinions can be seen in the often opposing interpretations of the Pandora myth, first recorded by Hesiod around 700 BC. In his poem Works and Days, Hesiod describes how Zeus created Pandora as a punishment to humanity, following Prometheus's theft of fire. She comes to humanity bearing a jar containing "countless plagues" – and, opening the lid, releases its evils to the world. "Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within the rim of the great jar," Hesiod tells us.

The role of hope in the myth of Pandora's Box has been interpreted in various ways (Credit: Alamy)

This is often interpreted as a metaphor for the emotion's potential to comfort us against the misery and duress that are inherent in the human condition. It sees hope as the sustaining force that Emily Dickinson would describe, thousands of years later, as the "thing with feathers – /that perches in the soul –".

It is possible to take a more pessimistic reading of the Pandora myth, however. Doesn't hope's presence in the jar, for example, suggest that it is some form of evil in itself? Perhaps Hesiod was hinting at the possibility that the supposedly soothing emotion can itself do harm.

The 19th-Century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was of this opinion. In Human, All Too Human (1878), he suggests that Pandora kept hope aside so that humanity would persist in living, despite the suffering that life inevitably entails. "Now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it," he wrote. "Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man's torment."

Nietzsche's interpretation of the Pandora myth recalls Arthur Schopenhauer's descriptions of hope as "a folly of the heart". For him, hope is a delusion. In his essay Psychological Remarks (1851), he notes that the emotion "deranges the intellect's appreciation of probability" so that we neglect the likely outcomes of events, even when the odds are stacked against us. "A hopeless misfortune is like a quick death blow, whilst a hope that is always frustrated and constantly revived resembles a kind of slow death by prolonged torture."

The hopepunk rebellion

When explaining the origins of the term hopepunk, Rowland fully recognises the need to acknowledge human frailty and suffering – as seen in series like Game of Thrones. But they felt that it should be balanced with a recognition of our capacity to do good, and the possibility of positive change.

"Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn't equal weakness, and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion," Rowland wrote in a follow-up to the original viral post. "It's about DEMANDING a better, kinder world." If hope sings a "tune without words" – as Dickinson described – then Rowland hears that song as a battle cry. This is the "punk" side of the moniker.

The essence of the hopepunk philosophy can be found in an exchange between Frodo and Samwise Gamgee in The Two Towers from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, as they struggle against the forces of evil around them.

"It's like in the great stories, Mr Frodo," Sam says. "Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the Sun shines it will shine out the clearer."

"What are we holding on to, Sam?" Frodo then asks.

"That there's some good in this world, Mr Frodo... and it's worth fighting for," his friend replies.

Other novels linked to the genre include Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens, which tells the story of an angel and a demon joining forces to save the world from an apocalypse; and The Martian by Andy Weir, about an abandoned space explorer who uses his knowledge of botany to survive on the desolate surface of the fourth rock from the Sun.

The protagonist of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale fights for what is right, and never loses hope (Credit: Alamy)

Perhaps surprisingly, Rowland considers Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to contain elements of hopepunk. The novel is usually regarded as a bitterly dystopian novel, but they point to the protagonist Offred's stubborn survival to keep fighting against oppression as an example of hope fuelling a fight for the greater good. (Atwood may not have used the term hopepunk herself, but she has spoken of her "qualified optimism" about our capacity to face environmental and political threats – which seems to chime with its general philosophy.)

More recent titles associated with the movement include Annalee Newitz's The Future of Another Timeline and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Unsurprisingly, Rowland's own output reflects the hopepunk philosophy. The novel A Choir of Lies examines a nation on the brink of economic ruin. While the characters are flawed, and their mistakes are sometimes disastrous, they struggle to make amends for their actions – defying a fatalistic view of human fallibility.

The future is bright

For Becky Chambers, the aim is to create well rounded stories that represent the breadth of experience. "Everything cannot end well for everybody – because that that doesn't happen in real life," Chambers tells me. "But even when things go wrong, I take the time to show how these people heal."

A beautiful example of this can be found in Chambers's To Be Taught, If Fortunate, which details a crewed mission to exoplanets. Fifteen light-years away from Earth, they have to wrestle with feelings of loneliness and isolation from the rest of humanity, and the dangers of the hostile environments in which they find themselves. Yet they also find solace in each other and in their curiosity for the worlds they are exploring.

I want the future to feel like something you could get excited about – and a place that we could consciously make if we chose to – Becky Chambers

In one particularly memorable scene, the astronauts are stranded on the planet Opera, where their spacecraft soon becomes surrounded by a plague of scaly aliens that resemble a kind of slug-like rat. The planet's harsh weather system makes it impossible to move their craft – and the crew have to endure endless days and nights locked inside listening to the animals' "bone-chilling" cries from outside their craft.

The team never quite give in to despair, however, and the storm eventually eases enough for them to escape the planet – much to the surprise of the captain Elena. "She'd spent so much time focused on what could go wrong, she'd forgotten the possibility that something could go right," Chambers writes.

As someone who has suffered from depression, I couldn't help but feel it was a lesson in psychological resilience, and a reminder that our own internal storms will pass with time.

Chambers's Wayfarers series presents a grander vision of a fictional universe, with many different alien species forming the Galactic Commons. The societies that Chambers depicts are far from perfect – there are inevitable struggles and injustices – but the series nevertheless presents an optimistic vision of the space age, built on cooperation and empathy between beings of many different backgrounds. "I want the future to feel like something you could get excited about – and a place that we could consciously make if we chose to."

As we find ways to navigate our current crises – be they personal or political – we might all try to remember these lessons in looking for the light in the darkness. "Hope is something that is desperately needed," Chambers says. "And it's needed right now."


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