While staying a hotel, northern Scottsdale resident Luke S. Larson’s eldest daughter, Kendall, took one look at the portraits of American presidents hung on the wall and made a comment that gave Larson pause.
“I can’t be president of the United States,” she said.
“I asked her, ‘Why?’ and she said, ‘These are all old, white guys,” Larson recalled. “This was a wake-up call for me.”
To show and empower young girls that they, too, can be scientists, inventors, CEOs, astronauts and, yes, presidents, Larson not only wrote a book, “IGIST” or “Intergalactic Institute of Science and Technology,” featuring a strong female protagonist, but he also developed the world’s first immersive novel with an app to complement and enhance the reading experience.
“IGIST,” published in December, tells the story of Emi, a young woman who dreams of escaping plague-ravaged Earth, attending the elite IGIST and becoming a great scientist.
Against all odds, she makes it into space and races against the clock to create an antidote for the source of the plague, a deadly amoebic monster.
“There are a ton of fun sci-fi-like characters,” Larson said. “It’s not only a book about a girl that wants to get off Earth, [but] it’s also about friendship and teamwork and overcoming adversity.”
Larson, who goes by the pen name L.S. Larson, is the president of Scottsdale-based company Axon Enterprise, Inc., formerly TASER International, Inc.
Axon develops technology and weapons products for law enforcement and civilians. Its flagship product is TASER, a line of electroshock weapons.
Larson was inspired by the history of the Taser.
“It was pretty awesome to find out that the inventor of the Taser was a former NASA scientist, a guy named Jack Cover, and he named the Taser after his favorite childhood series, ‘Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,’ which was a sci-fi book from the early 1900’s,” Larson said.
It’s true; TASER is a loose acronym based on the young adult novel published in 1911: “Tom A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.”
“All these really renowned scientists and inventors are inspired by this boy inventor series where he’s up against an existential crisis and he has to save the day. So, I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could dust off the same premise, but instead of a young boy, make it a strong female protagonist that would inspire hopefully my daughters, but really anybody, that they could use science or technology to solve humanity’s grand challenges,” Larson said.
And he did just that — specifically for his three daughters, 10-year-old Kendall, 7-year-old Kaylee and 1-year-old London.
With the help of an illustrator and two developers, Larson also created an app for “IGIST,” bringing the book to life.
The app immerses the reader and transports them to the IGIST universe via photo-realistic and cinematic illustrations and animations that pop up throughout the text. At the end of each chapter, users can collect coins and badges that they can then use to purchase virtual character cards and stickers.
“One of the funnest parts of the app is we have augmented reality; so, if you have the hard copy of the book and you have our app, you can use that app and it will bring the hard copy of that book to life with augmented reality features,” Larson said. “It’s just a really, really cool immersive experience.”
The augmented reality features enable readers to turn themselves into a hologram and interact with the props, settings and characters from the story.
Larson worked for a year with digital illustrator Yujin Jung, an Arizona State University graduate and Gilbert resident; iOS developer Rob Heller, a graduate from The University of Arizona whose latest projects include the Lively Town, GoKiGo, DWNTWN and Meditation app, among others; and Android developer Scott Slater.
It took Larson four years to write the first book, however, and he’s currently working on book two of five.
“I have the whole book kind of plotted out,” he said. “The way that I write, I map out the overarching plot and chapters and then I’ll go in and do detailed chapter outlines, and I’m halfway through that process.”
Larson’s daughters are also heavily involved in the writing process.
“When I was writing [the first book], I would read [Kendall] a chapter as I wrote it,” he said. “This was a really fun project, and that I was literally writing it for my 10-year-old daughter. Now, I’m reading it to my 7-year-old daughter, and I’m actually reading it through the app that we developed.”
Larson’s daughters even helped name a few of the characters in “IGIST.”
“My oldest daughter would tell me what she liked and didn’t like, and it was fun to have her as an on-the-fly editor as I was writing it,” he said with a laugh.
Larson expects to have the second book finished and ready for publication April 2020.
He also plans to launch immersive novels for each of the five books.
“I could see opening the platform up to other authors that would want to create in this medium, where it’s a novel story, but you can also weave in animations and illustrations and other kind of Easter egg-like items that makes for a really fun and engaging experience,” Larson said.
“IGIST” isn’t Larson’s first published novel.
When he was around 25, Larson left the Marine Corps, where he served as a Marine infantry officer and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal on his first of two tours.
He took six months off and wrote a historical fiction novel called “Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel,” which was published in 2010.
Prior, Larson attended The University of Arizona on a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and graduated with honors with a degree in journalism.
So far, “IGIST” has received positive reviews on Amazon, where it has a 4.9 out of 5 rating.
Larson hopes the message readers, including his daughters, take away from the novel is “that the right idea can solve any challenge.”