Another Drake story about mercenaries, this takes place on a future Venus that has been terraformed by a humanity which has since destroyed itself in nuclear war, leaving colonists in existing in domes beneath Venus' sea as the last remaining humans.
The surface of Venus is habitable, though difficult because of the radiation of the nearer sun. The main problem is the rapidly evolved versions of Earth life seeded on Venus and now fighting to kill each other for every ecological niche.
Wars on Venus between the domes are fought by mercenary companies on the surface of the planet, mainly on water. The story follows Johnnie Gordon, son of a powerful dome senator who is trying to unite Venus before they have a nuclear war and go the same way as Earth. He joins the company of Blackhorse, where his uncle is an influential commander who is manipulating the situation for his own ends, and to further the goal of uniting what is left of humanity. During the story Johnnie discovers just how dangerous the mercenary life is, especially because of the bloodthirsty wildlife, and how frightening and difficult battles are aboard the different mercenary craft.
While is starts off like a book written mainly for teenagers, Surface Action then blends in enough politics with the action to make it interesting for the older action-adventure reader. Drake gives the story a blend of old-style SF adventure with up-to-date gritty realism and characters. At the end of the book is a note from Drake to the effect that he wanted to do an updated version of the 1940s style story that drew him in to science fiction, and he has certainly managed to do it and make the story a real page-turner to boot.
Review by Paul Silver, 1999
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