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After World

A Novel


About The Book

One of Los Angeles Times’s Best Tech Books of 2023
One of San Francisco Chronicle’s Favorite Books of 2023
“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 Sen was seventeen years old when the Digital Human Archive Project (DHAP) was initiated. 12,000,203,891 humans have been archived so far.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.

About The Readers

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (December 5, 2023)
  • Runtime: 10 hours and 32 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797170381

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Raves and Reviews

"Conceptually brilliant, Urbanski's debut is a tragic story that embraces philosophical musings rather than a violent catastrophe."Library Journal

Sura Siu's and Emily Tremaine's alternating narrations plunge listeners into the events surrounding a government-sanctioned human-extinction event. Siu's performance shifts in tone and cadence as the AI called "Storyworker" tells the story of Sen, a teenage "Witness" to the end of humankind. The initially straightforward account merges with journals and surveillance footage of Sen's final years. As Storyworker becomes less objective, which becomes evident in Siu's softening diction, it still cannot quite fully express the human spirit. Tremaine, as Sen, gives the character emotional complexity that shows her humanity. Cindy Kay, as former sci-fi writer Wynn, and Kevin R. Free, as high school textbook author Cugat, provide additional world-building.AudioFile

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