In the 23rd century rising oceans and diseases that rapidly mutate have become a real threat to both humans and food crops, and only the offerings of the calorie companies have kept humanity alive. These hated corporations use genetic hacking techniques to produce food crops that grow for just a few generations before the diseases adapt and wipe them out, and they use their food as leverage over everyone. Willing to do just about anything to obtain new seed stock to give them an advantage these companies have private armies and almost unlimited funding. Thailand has done its best to stay autonomous from such companies, but Bangkok is a drowning city where tensions between government factions are rising. Agrigen sees this as an opportunity to acquire access to Thailand's coveted seed vault and a simple windup girl finds herself at the center of this coming storm.
I enjoy books that deal with the fall of civilization as we know it. Be it nuclear war, zombies, aliens, an EMP or a virus, each story provokes the same questions for me: What would I do? Could I survive in this new world? Would my morals be tossed aside when my survival hangs by a thread? That is what makes the genre so interesting to me. Earth abides approaches the fall of civilization in a very different and laid back way. Mankind is practically wiped out overnight and the world becomes a lonely place for the few survivors. There is no gigantic battle or war as a back drop for this tale, nor is there any real lingering threat from the contagion that practically eliminates the human race. Rather it is a theoretical tale of what would happen to the earth if you took humans out of the mix. Is that a worthy premise?
Neal Stephenson takes a variety of different ideas and seemingly random subjects and does his best to weave them together into a coherent tale. These subjects include ancient Sumer, religious history, linguistics, virtual reality, viruses, sword fighting, and hacking, amongst others. They are all rolled into a story set in a bizarre future where the United States as we know it is no more and our current culture has been taken to absurd, and often entertaining, extremes. The US has become best known for its ability to deliver pizzas efficiently, the federal government has ceded much of the land to corporations/franchises, and couriers ride futuristic skateboards using magnetic harpoons to attach to vehicles on the freeway for a free lift.