After World

After World by Debbie Urbanski

One of San Francisco Chronicle’s Favorite Books of 2023! And one of the Los Angeles Times’ best tech books of 2023

If you are interested in humans, AIs, and/or Earth, you might like this book. 

Order now from:
Barnes & Noble
Simon & Schuster 

Read my interview with Esquire about this book; or an excerpt on or in Orion or on; or watch Leaf by Leaf’s excellent video about my novel. 

“‘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 

“Debbie Urbanski writes the kind of short stories that I want to twist into a knot and hand to my younger self. There’s something about these stories that speaks directly to the questions writers of so-called “cli-fi” are trying to answer: how do we write about the climate crisis or the end of the world? What is the role of storytelling in representing it? It’s impossible to recommend one of her short stories because I can’t choose just one. Luckily, though, now that her debut novel After World is out, I don’t have to. You need to read this.” – Bren Ram, Ancillary Review of Books

“Urbanski’s debut imagines what the future of humanity and the planet might be. What does a world look like as it slowly collapses, and how do people—as a collective and as individuals—handle it? Disease is what kicks off the end of humanity, but the environment and technology are really what are explored here. Sen Anon is the last human on Earth and has been tasked as a witness to a rewilding world. She is paid, mostly in a flavored powder drink, to write everything she observes. At times, she is purely reporting her surroundings, and at other times, she is reflecting and remembering. 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. The narrative is a novel within a novel. Readers are getting the story told not from Sen but from an artificial intelligence that has uploaded Sen’s journals. References to scholarly and other works are noted as the AI sorts through and presents information, which adds an entertaining element to the story. Fans of sf, cli-fi, and apocalyptic novels will enjoy this fresh take on familiar genres.” Booklist  (starred review)

“After World is a book that goes hard. Pitiless, merciless and relentless, it takes you to the darkest depths of climate despair and reveals the indestructible beauty at our species’ core.” – Cory Doctorow, 

“The narrative is also studded with quotations, extracts, and references from “contemporary” essays, reports, articles, and works of fiction, in the manner of anxious students trying to impress by showing their breadth of reading. There are lists of vocabulary for the “End of the Anthropocene,” coding, transcripts of “Humannetwork” exchanges, even a ghost which may or may not be actual or symbolic. This does not make the book quick or easy reading, but like Mark Z. Danielewski’s metafiction-horror House of Leaves (2000), another book picked out to read by one of the characters, it forces the reader to slow down and think. After World is not a novel which will be to everyone’s taste: when I started it, I was not sure I was going to enjoy it. Having finished it, I am going to stick my neck out and say that, although it is (at time of writing) barely 2024, this is going to feature in my next list of “Best SF of the Year.” – Andy Sawyer, Strange Horizons

“[Storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc reflects on the roles of mothers in science fiction, noting that “the most believable role for mothers in all genres of fiction but particularly the post-apocalyptic genre is that of the self-sacrificer.” (187) Urbanski refuses to make mothers only extensions of their children, willing to do anything for their children’s survival. Both mothers have pain, fear, and flaws outside of Sen, their tragedies are entirely their own—not in a selfish way, but with a humanity that is often denied mothers in fiction. Urbanski’s choice to focus on mothers, and women more generally through the course of this book makes a powerful statement about women in post-apocalyptic fiction.” –Helen McColpin, Masschusetts Review

“Experimentally told and steeped in climate crisis grief, this novel is certainly not for everyone. But the ultimate effect is wrenching, fascinating, and unique. A difficult but deeply moving story of grief and love.” – Kirkus Reviews

“After an artificial superintelligence targets humanity with a sterilization virus, it invites the last people to have their ‘post-body’ lives preserved and uploaded to a new virtual world through the Digital Human Archive Project (DHAP). One ‘storyworker’ called ad39-393a-7fbc is tasked with converting the life and death of a young woman into an optimized narrative format, but as it synthesizes journals, transcripts and reference texts chronicling her harrowing experience of the Great Transition’s violent social collapse, it struggles to maintain the authorial distance that DHAP requires. This inventive love story is meticulously experimental with time and structure.” —Dana Dunham, Scientific American

“After World is a conversation. Though it offers you enough plot points and twists, counting those invented by the AI, it is there to ask you unworded questions, making you think. With the topics that the novel brings up – those of environmental damage, sacrifice, the meaning of one person, the development of machines, motherhood, and the purpose of life – there is no set-in-stone answers or prognoses. There is plenty of food for you to think about, though.” – Nadya Mercik, British Fantasy Society

Check out Sen’s Instagram feed

Emly and [storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc are also on Instagram, though they post less frequently because they have a lot of other things to do.