You may already be familiar with the saga of The Uncanny X-Men — but this is the tale of Wilmar Shiras’ Children of the Atom, first published in 1953 by pioneering SF publisher Gnome Press.
Born to workers caught in an explosion at an atomic weapons facility, these remarkable youths were orphaned just a few months after birth when their parents succumbed to delayed effects from the blast. Now they are in their early teens, scattered across the country, each unaware of the others’ existence. But beginning with the introduction of 13-year-old Timothy Paul to school psychiatrist Dr. Peter Welles, all that is about to change. After identifying Timothy and his fellow prodigies for what they are — and for what their potential might be — Dr. Welles commits himself to gathering these “Wonder Children” into an experimental school, both to harness their intellectual abilities and to shelter them from the world they've left behind.
At this new Academy, teachers and students alike throw themselves into discussion and learning, laying the groundwork for what they hope will become a rich new chapter in human history. But once the Children of the Atom are all in one place, keeping their existence a secret becomes more and more of a challenge, and escalating events soon force a reckoning not only among the Wonder Children themselves, but also with the larger society that lies just outside their sanctuary’s walls.
Over the decades that followed, this eloquent portrait of gifted children confronting a hostile world proved itself to be an enduring classic. It has often been credited with providing the inspiration for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s world-famous comic book creation, The Uncanny X-Men.
Wilmar House Shiras was born in 1908 in Boston, Massachusetts, where she spent her formative years before moving west to attend the University of California at Berkeley. After completing four years of graduate studies in history, she settled in the neighboring city of Oakland with her husband Russell, where they proceeded to raise five children. It was for her family’s entertainment that Shiras first began to create stories. In 1948, at the insistence of her small but loyal audience, she submitted the story “In Hiding” to editor John W. Campbell, Jr.’s groundbreaking magazine Astounding ScienceFiction, which published it in that year’s November issue. “In Hiding” proved to be one of those rare works with which readers felt a deep identification, and over the next two years Shiras built on her success with the sequels “Opening Doors” and “New Foundations” (both also published in Astounding Science Fiction). Those three pieces became the first three chapters of Children of the Atom, published by Gnome Press in 1953. Over the decades that followed, this eloquent portrait of gifted children confronting a hostile world proved itself to be an enduring classic. (It has also been credited — though never officially confirmed — with providing the inspiration for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s world-famous comic book creation, The Uncanny X-Men.) And although it was to be the only book that Shiras would publish in the genre, Children of the Atom has earned its author an honored place among science fiction’s pantheon of creators — in 2002, the Science Fiction Book Club named it one of the Most Significant Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years. Shiras passed away in 1990.