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Survival is insufficient.

“All I’m saying,” Dieter said, twelve hours out of St. Deborah by the Water, “is that quote on the lead caravan would be way more profound if we hadn’t lifted it from Star Trek.”

Kirsten Raymonde, the heroine of Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven, lives in a dystopian version of Toronto. Twenty years after a violent flu virus has ravaged the world, killing huge numbers and rendering society technologically poor, Kirsten works as a professional actress. She tours with a band of musicians and actors called The Travelling Symphony who perform Shakespearean plays and classical music as they pass through the small towns that constitute post-epidemic society. The motto of the symphony, 'Survival is insufficient', a Star Trek quote from the old world, informs their company's choice to keep going even if sometimes 'it seemed a difficult and dangerous way to survive and hardly worth it'. Their motto is so important to Kirsten that she has it tattooed on her arm.

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Everyone thinks my brother is nice. He set up a rescue centre for birds, after the terraforming accident poisoned the lake. That's always the image of him, holding a bird covered in sludge. The birds are never the same after they're cleaned, but the gossips never talk about that.

Polenth Blake's "Never the Same" is a strange, dark story that shows the importance of shaking up well used SFF narratives and introducing radically new fictional voices. It's also a story that left me wondering if I could trust anything that I'd read, and yet still weirdly satisfied by what I'd read.

A little like "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" it's difficult to analyse "Never the Same" without giving away all the story's secrets, so consider this your spoiler warning.

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