After World: The Digital Human Archive Project

A look at one novel's take on the end of humanity

Debbie Urbanski’s After World explores what happens when the Artificial Intelligence tasked with writing a novel falls in love with the book’s subject, who happens to be the last human on Earth.


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A CREEK CARRYING WATER IN IT,  insects, water skippers, gather at the calm edges rippling the creek, ferns arch upward, their blades, tips, shaking, the trees scatter shadow into the elongated spaces of light, the remains of a girl’s or a woman’s gym shoe, the right shoe, shoved into the protected hollow of a tree, stripped twigs, four deer with upright white tails, a fisher-cat bites into the heart of a fox pup, it will eat the pup’s liver next, followed by the head. The remnants of a bridge that spanned the creek, the vultures circling tightly overhead, an inchworm clings to the end of a silk thread, the thread is almost invisible, the pond that the creek pours into, a cluster of beggar ticks, lichen, rocks, the pulse of gnats. The remains of a cabin. A tree growing out of the cabin, possibly several young trees, maples, an elm, shrubs, a squirrel’s nest, the mounded grit of ants, the cabin roof gone, the window glass is gone, the rain, when it comes, blows hard throughout, wetting all of it, the gutted mattress, the cracked table, the green moss that has settled upon the walls, there are bones, a flycatcher’s nest in the oven. A road led from here to the pond. At the end of what had been the road, beside the pond, the grass is claiming a rough rectangle of metal, long grasses weaving under and around the corroded frame, and flowers, light purples and yellows. The clouds go. New clouds remain. A fish, swimming upward, touches its wide mouth to the air. Anything that might have missed a human, the dairy cows, stabled horses, pets: long dead, or they’ve given birth to several feral generations. It was once said that a loss, no matter its size, can’t be this enormous tragedy when there is no one and nothing left to mourn it. The water tosses and turns.


Pick up your copy of After World and read more about
how AI narrates the end of the world with surprising affection.

This piece is excerpted from After World by Debbie Urbanski, published by Simon and Schuster. Copyright 2023 by Debbie Urbanski, and used her with permission. 

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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 SunGrantaOrion, 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.