Diana Roark didn’t begin life as the richest person in human history.
But as luck would have it, she’s exploring Earth’s deepest ocean when aliens, called The 27, orbit and make First Contact. When The 27 leave, as suddenly as they came, every human alive has been Augmented—except for Diana. After Augmentation, humanity no longer ages, and all material comforts are dispensed free from alien Obelisks. With all fundamental needs suddenly free, the world economy craters. Entire industries collapse. Only Diana, excluded from Augmentation’s endless youth, fearing the end she sees coming, continues to invest. And in using her immense wealth to stabilize the planet the only way she knows, she becomes sole owner of much of the Earth.
Then the 27 reappear, after thirty years, intent on collecting what they’re owed, and Diana is the only person alive who still wields money brutally enough to give humanity a fighting chance. She’s met her match, however, in the endlessly expanding Known Economy, a galactic marketplace which absorbs every sentient species it encounters, and which recognizes just a single, simple rule: you either buy, or get sold to the highest bidder.
Plot/Idea: A smart, thought-provoking novel that combines staple elements of sci-fi fiction with a novel plot, A Debt to the Stars is a great read. There are points when the reader may struggle to fully grasp the implications of some of the plot points (especially after the introduction of Robert and The Fund), though the fact that Diana is often also struggling to understand makes it feel like an intentional choice.
Prose: The author's prose is clear and engaging; Hincker has a knack for bringing high-action scenes to life. There is an unexpected infusion of comic relief that readers will really appreciate as well, especially via Robert and Diana's dialogue.
Originality: The author effectively balances creating new life-forms and inter-planetary organizations with life as we know it on Earth in a way that is very engaging. The parallels between Diana's reality and our own contemporary society—capitalism, waste, predatory lenders—are timely, if a bit heavy-handed at some points.
Character/Execution: Hincker does an effective job letting readers into Diana's head, which places readers right in the middle of the story. The audience will appreciate the way in which this character opens up throughout the novel, tapping into her own unresolved pain. Some of the minor characters like Liz and Greg seemed underdeveloped at times—more like plot mechanisms than individual personalities.
Blurb: A Debt to the Stars is a smart, fast-paced novel that speaks to our own socio-economic moment in a fascinating, creative way. Readers of sci-fi (and anyone who thinks critically of capitalism) will be captivated by the planet-saving journey thrust upon Diana Roark and her swearing alien sidekick.
Date Submitted: April 15, 2023
Hincker opens with a serious, familiar alien encounter story that quickly blooms into the improbable and hilarious with the appearance of “Robert,” a foul-mouthed alien resembling a 12-foot-tall purple stalk of broccoli. He tells Diana he is her Account Executive on behalf of the Interstellar Trade Commission of the Known Economy, and a cryptocurrency that has attained sentience. When Diana learns the truth of the number 27 and the aliens’ plan for Earth, she puts her economic powers to work against the aliens, as well as the nefarious Terrance Landerson, Director of the World Bank, who raves: “Capitalism will save us!...Strive and achieve, or fail and die.”
There’s much to love about this profitable predicament. Hincker twists the cliché of Earth threatened by aliens with a cynical commentary on the preoccupation over money, loans, interest, and financial obligations. The rich are always getting richer somewhere, and capitalism is literally universal. This book is a treat for lovers of humorous science fiction that gets readers thinking. Diana is white but the supporting cast is diverse; anyway, Robert informs us that 99% of intelligent life is plant-based, not like us disgusting animals.
Takeaway: This uproarious economic-focused SF romp wins with its amusing predicament and steadfast female protagonist.
Great for fans of: Catherynne M. Valente, Terry Pratchett.
Design and typography: N/A
Marketing copy: A
A Debt to the Stars recieves a Starred Review from Kirkus, who call the book, "...a unique, frantic, fun, and thought-provoking SF tale that takes surprising twists and turns, reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy."