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ASPI Welcomes SU Graduate and Local Writer, Debbie Urbanski

April 10, 2024

Debbie Urbanski '04, an SU graduate and local writer visited ASPI to discuss her first novel “After World.” The book, released last December, is receiving increasing attention and appraise from across the literary world, with different commentators describing it as “compelling, intriguing, sophisticated, stinging, and defiant.

To give an example, the San Francisco Chronicle describes the book in the following way:

"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.  

Debbie Urbanski novel discussion

Other commentators highlight the breadth and novelty of the work in terms of content, themes, and genre. Content-wise, as on reviewer said, “I can’t believe this came from a single author.” In terms of themes, it tackles a vast set of issues at the intersection of technology, environment, emotions, love and what it means to be human.  The innovations here are numerous, but to give you an example, it flips the story, where an AI falls in love with a human, rather that nth other way around.  Regarding genre, the work is sometimes described as “literary science fiction,” but I think that’s an understatement.  For those of us who live in Syracuse, there is the extra eerie pleasure of recognizing some local places in the book.

Admiration for what Debbie has done from a philosophical perspective; first, rather than buying into the singularity argument and other eschatological views, which suggest an end to humanity by our own creations, she shows that human fallibilities and mischiefs pose a more serious threat to our species and to the environment than an AI.  Second, she challenges the modern Cartesian paradigm of a solipsist thinker—“I think, therefore I am”—to a more compelling view—namely, “I tell stories, therefore I am.”

As a great storyteller, Debbie represents what is quintessentially human in all of us, not to speak of her warmth and humility.  A recent review by a literary podcast named Leaf by Leaf on YouTube describes Debbie Urbanski as a “top-tier novelist,” quoting a famous line from Emerson’s letter to Whitman:  “I greet you for a great career!” 

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