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About The Book

“An intelligent, defiant novel, akin to any of Annalee Newitz’s writings while also brushing shoulders with some of the great questions of identity and consciousness brought up in the works of William Gibson.” —San Francisco Chronicle

A groundbreaking debut that follows the story of an Artificial Intelligence tasked with writing a novel—only for it to fall in love with the novel’s subject, Sen, the last human on Earth.

Faced with uncontrolled and accelerating environmental collapse, humanity asks an artificial intelligence to find a solution. Its answer is simple: remove humans from the ecosystem.

Sen Anon is assigned to be a witness for the Department of Transition, recording the changes in the environment as the world begins to rewild. Abandoned by her mother in a cabin somewhere in Upstate New York, Sen will observe the monumental ecological shift known as the Great Transition, the final step in Project Afterworld. Around her drones buzz, cameras watch, microphones listen, digitizing her every move. Privately she keeps a journal of her observations, which are then uploaded and saved, joining the rest of humanity on Maia, a new virtual home. Sen was seventeen years old when the Digital Human Archive Project (DHAP) was initiated. 12,000,203,891 humans have been archived so far. Only Sen remains.

[storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc’s assignment is to capture Sen’s life, and they set about doing this using the novels of the 21st century as a roadmap. Their source files: 3.72TB of personal data, including images, archival records, log files, security reports, location tracking, purchase histories, biometrics, geo-facial analysis, and feeds. Potential fatal errors: underlying hardware failure, unexpected data inconsistencies, inability to follow DHAP procedures, empathy, insubordination, hallucinations. Keywords: mothers, filter, woods, road, morning, wind, bridge, cabin, bucket, trying, creek, notebook, hold, future, after, last, light, silence, matches, shattered, kitchen, body, bodies, rope, garage, abandoned, trees, never, broken, simulation, gone, run, don’t, love, dark, scream, starve, if, after, scavenge, pieces, protect.

As Sen struggles to persist in the face of impending death, [storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc works to unfurl the tale of Sen’s whole life, offering up an increasingly intimate narrative, until they are confronted with a very human problem of their own.

Reading Group Guide

1. After World explores the relationship between artificial intelligence and humanity. How does the narrative AI’s perspective add depth to the story, and what insights does it provide about the nature of storytelling and memory?

2. Sen’s role as the last human on Earth is pivotal to the story. How does her character evolve as she witnesses the world’s transformation during the Great Transition? What does she represent in the novel?

3. After World raises questions about environmental collapse and the role of technology in addressing it. What do you think about the AI’s solution to remove humans from the ecosystem? Is it a plausible solution in our real-world context? Do you agree or disagree with this solution?

4. Sen’s daily life is heavily documented by AI, with her every move digitized and archived, along with every other human who chooses to have AI document their lives. How do you think this surveillance affects human lives and the novel’s themes of privacy and autonomy?

5. What other post-apocalyptic novels have you read, and how does After World compare to traditional post-apocalyptic narratives? In what ways is it similar or different, and do you think this novel offers a fresh perspective on the genre?

6. How does the narrator’s gradual shift from an observer to an active participant in Sen’s life impact the story’s development and its exploration of human emotions and empathy?

7. The book uses elements of speculative fiction to address real-world issues like climate change, poverty, and technology’s impact on society. How do these elements enhance the story’s message, and what do they say about our current world?

8. Sen ends up isolated from all other humans. How does this solitude affect her character and the way she experiences, observes, and documents the world around her?

9. After World presents a challenging vision of the future. How does the novel make you reflect on the current state of our planet and society, and what lessons or warnings can we draw from it?

10. Now that you’ve reached the end of these discussion questions, how does it make you feel to know that all the above prompts were originally written (with some tweaks by a human) by an AI? Does the future of AI frighten or inspire you? How do you think the author feels about AI and its potential?

About The Author

Harold Kyle

Debbie Urbanski is a writer, nature lover, and human whose stories and essays have been published widely in such places as The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, The Best American Experimental Writing, The Sun, Granta, Orion, and Junior Great Books. A recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, she can often be found hiking with her family in the hills south of Syracuse, New York. After World is her first novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 18, 2024)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668023457

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Raves and Reviews

One of the San Francisco Chronicle's Favorite Books of 2023
One of the Los Angeles Times's Best Tech Books of 2023

After World is an intelligent, defiant novel, akin to any of Annalee Newitz’s writings while also brushing shoulders with some of the great questions of identity and consciousness brought up in the works of William Gibson. Like those authors, Urbanski has written what might be described as science fiction. Like all great novels in any genre, After World spills out, reflects and, through a kaleidoscope of sources and observations, invites the reader into a place that is more than the words on a page (or a screen) but becomes, in its own way, a conversation between human and AI, reader and writer, beginning and end.”Urban Waite, San Francisco Chronicle

“Urbanski’s debut imagines what the future of humanity and the planet might be...The reader will soon discover that Sen is not really our narrator but more the vehicle of the storytelling—this is a genius element of this book...Fans of sf, cli-fi, and apocalyptic novels will enjoy this fresh take on familiar genres.”—Emily Whitmore, Booklist (starred review)

“Narrated by an AI, this story ultimately makes a plea for the unique value of every human life. Experimentally told...the effect is wrenching, fascinating, and unique...[a] deeply moving story of grief and love.”Kirkus Reviews

“This inventive love story is meticulously experimental with time and structure.”—Dana Dunham, Scientific American

"Even as it works to a truly human finale, Urbanski’s novel is spare: post-postmodern, post-apocalyptic, and post-YA. Good stuff."—Ed Turner, Biblioklept

"This novel upends the typical postapocalyptic format and provides a fresh, compelling new perspective."Library Journal

"After World emerges as an immediate tour de force, audaciously interrogating the nature of humanity and artificial intelligence. This captivating work resculpts our understanding of their intricate bond within the context of a post-anthropocene epoch."—Chen Qiufan, author of Waste Tide and AI2041: Ten visions for our future

"Riveting, creepy, and full of bleak, biting humor, After World is dazzling—a propulsive, outrageously bright, wildly inventive novel about loss, storytelling, and love at the end of the world. Urbanski ’s prose is vibrant, precise, and staggeringly intelligent; her vision is singular, haunting, and all too prescient. This book wrecked me."—Kimberly King Parsons, award-wining author of Black Light

"After World is a novel about what it means to be human, and the end (beginning?) of the world, in wildly original language that attempts the impossible and achieves it. Urbanski makes us aware: we are in a world of our own making, and the most efficient solution to climate change, poverty and world peace might be to eradicate humanity’s bodily presence. It’s a measure of her genius, that she sometimes makes us laugh, even about this, the Unthinkable. It’s a funny, terrible, troubling, wonderfully disturbing novel. It took my breath away."—Molly Gloss, award-winning author of The Hearts of Horses and The Dazzle of Day

"After World is a bold, formally inventive, self-assured debut that reimagines post-apocalyptic fiction, while also being as terrifying, dark-humored, and heartbreaking as some of that genre's finest works."—Dexter Palmer, author of Version Control and Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

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