FORGOTTEN BOOK: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM by Wilmar H. Shiras, 1953
This is the 105th in my series of Forgotten Books.
I believe it was Henry Melton who made me read the first third of this book under the title “In Hiding” which was the title used in ASTOUNDING magazine in 1948. That story was amazing! Shiras later went on to write three other pieces in the series and in 1953 cobbled it all together with some original work and produced CHILDREN OF THE ATOM. This is widely held as one of the most significant steps in science fiction as it moved away from intrepid engineers saving the universe to the study of the softer sciences, in this case sociology and psychology.
The story is relatively straightforward. Miss Page, a teacher at a junior high school, has concerns about a young student, Timothy (Tim) Paul. He is an average student with no special attributes but she senses “something” and has him sent to psychologist Dr. Peter Welles, who had been a student of hers years before. At first, Tim seems relatively normal, perhaps a little smarter than average but as Dr. Welles delves into the boy he finds a superior intellect, perhaps even more intelligent than himself.
He develops a trust with the boy and finds out he is a super genius – able to read at age 2, selling his first short story at age 8, author of several well received and respected novels, holder of a number of patents, and an expert on any area he sets his mind to. He is bothered because librarians, the scourge of intelligent children, try to keep him out of the adult portions of the library and restrict his reading and learning. But he learns how to avoid them and keeps on learning and never forgetting. His biggest trouble is trying to appear to be normal and not stand out. His grandparents are raising him and they do not want him to be trouble.
Tim’s parents were exposed to radiation at a nuclear plant the year before he was born. They both died shortly thereafter. Dr. Welles postulates that Tim might be a mutant as a result of the radiation exposure. And since the radiation leak occurred at a working facility, there might be other children born to the parents who later died.
Tim and Peter begin a search of the country looking for others like Tim. But they have to disguise their intent and not bring these remarkable but skittish children out into the open where they can gather and mingle their interests and intelligences. They place cryptic ads in magazine and papers and wait for responses. The children, not sure whether this is a trap or not, reply cryptically to see if the sender is the same as they are.
Eventually a group of similar children are gathered together and sent to a school funded by Tim’s grandparents (and named in honor of his parents) with Peter and Miss Page and others on the staff. The children are brilliant in their own ways but also deficient in the social interaction areas. They pretend to be a high IQ school and must perform some regular school activities though they all have advanced interests and ideas.
I will leave most of the details to you to find as you read and enjoy this book. It is short, 182 pages in the edition I read, and a quick read. It will stay with you for a long time. The idea of a school founded for mutant children of extraordinary ability can be seen in the development of the X-Men comic book to which this novel is generally linked. Stan Lee has never officially acknowledged the debt to CHILDREN OF THE ATOM, though one X-MEN graphic novel does bear that title. The fear and persecution of the children by an unknowing populace figures into both sequences.
The book has had several nice editions and should be readily available for you from the regular sources online.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.