The illustrator, Yujin Jung, deserves some high praise
Emi is determined to be the first Earth-born human in a generation to earn a spot at the most prestigious scientific academy ever made, and she won't let anything stand in her way. She must overcome the skepticism of her pragmatic teachers, a technological plague that is scouring the planet, and the rigors of an entrance examination so difficult that even her recruiter urges her to try something else. Making it, though, is only the beginning, and a whole universe of challenges awaits her in the rotating space station called IGIST.
Every once in a while, I get the opportunity to review a self-published work for a fledgling author, which is something I relish doing. Self-published works have an unfortunate stigma to them, often thought of as rushed-out amateurish works that didn't deserve the attention of an agent or publisher, assuming the writer even bothered trying to go the traditional publication route. While this is true some of the time, most of the self-published works I've had the privilege to review have been relatively good and well-written, though perhaps lacking in the polish a professionally published work typically achieves. I don't normally write full reviews like this one for such novels, opting instead to just pen a few paragraphs for Amazon or for the sake of a good pull quote. However, today, I must confess I've read a self-published book so good, I feel the need to go into a little more detail.
That brings me to IGIST, a young adult sci-fi adventure published last year by L.S. Larson. Larson, president of the Scottsdale-based tech company Axon that specializes in things like body cameras and less-lethal tools for law enforcement, developed the story with the help of his daughters, hoping to inspire new generations of scientists and engineers the way Tom Swift inspired kids a century ago. Conceived of as a sprawling, multi-book series that charts the adventures of a young heroine named Emi after she enrolls in the Intergalactic Institute of Science and Technology (IGIST), the story is only half the story.
This is pretty fun
Larson also assembled a team of developers to create a companion app for the first book that is pretty impressive on its own merits. There are some neat augmented reality tools that bring life to the book's illustrations or reveal a virtual model of the titular space station, an extended library of unlockable character cards that reveal more information about your favorite students and teachers, secret "Sputniks" that are revealed as you read, very cool behind the scenes videos, and much more, all in addition, of course, to the book itself, on an interface more interesting than your typical e-reader but no less easy on the eyes. The best part? The app is free!
Getting back to the book itself, this is something special. Comparisons to Harry Potter or Ender's Game are pretty easy to make, but while IGIST certainly has the tight narrative that brings all the threads together in the end like the best of Rowling's series and has the high stakes and memorable characters of Orson Scott Card's most famous work, it's where it deviates from these masterpieces that is the most remarkable. Namely, the main character is a girl.
Given that this is a novel attempting to instill a love for science and technology in a sci-fi world, it's pretty daring, even today, to place a young woman in the lead role. Larson gives young girls a Tom Swift-style role model in Emi, and he does it without reducing her to a perfect caricature. Emi is moral and likeable, but she has her flaws and learns from some pretty hefty mistakes, including one that has serious repercussions near the end of the novel. She is refreshingly real, no matter how fanciful or fantastic the setting becomes.
Larson doesn't skimp on the world-building, either, though he is careful not to overload you with unnecessary details. This is a fleshed-out, impressively large universe that feels like it extends well beyond the boundaries of the story being told, which is essential for the series to continue. There are plenty of interesting science-fiction concepts being explored, lots of tantalizing side-stories hinted at, and a well-worn sense that, though we are only experiencing Emi's story, every character in it is part of their own. At the same time, things move at a brisk, exciting pace, never letting the story get bogged down.
The IGIST team has been doing events around the world to promote the book
If I have to find flaws, I'd point to the stilted writing of the first few chapters. This goes away once Larson gets the hang of the story he's trying to tell, but newcomers should wait at least twenty or so pages before judging him for his writing technique. I should also note that I read this in the middle of my Summer of Robert A. Heinlein, and though you can say what you will about Heinlein, no writer should be forced to compete with him when it comes to style. It's entirely possible my opinion of those first twenty pages was unfairly tainted by everything else I was reading this summer.
IGIST is an impossibly imaginative work of young adult fiction that is entertaining, thrilling, and charming for readers of all ages, and it serves as a shining beacon for younger audiences interested in science. It's a universe chock full of good, positive messages and an understanding of how young people see the world that is never condescending or false. The fact that it's a wonderful adventure with a brilliantly clever narrative is just a bonus. Don't let the fact that it's self-published stop you from seeking it out, because truth be told, this is far better than a lot of the stuff you'll find in the new release young adult section of your local bookstore.