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Children of the Atom
by Wilmar H. Shiras
Pennyfarthing Press, $12.95, 214pp
Published 1978, copyright 1953

Peter Welles was working as a school psychiatrist when he first met Timothy Paul.  Tim was a very normal child – mostly.  But his teachers were concerned for reasons they couldn’t quite articulate.  Peter had a very good idea of Tim’s problem very quickly:  Tim was a genius hiding in plain sight.  But he was a genius on a level that astounded Peter.  Even Tim’s deliberate efforts to hide his intelligence and accomplishments was a finely considered plan.  Tim’s grandparents, with whom he lived, didn’t even know.  Peter was the only one.  And after a period of time getting to know the extent of Tim’s abilities, one very important thing stood out to concern Peter…Tim was the loneliest boy on earth.  But it wasn’t until Peter met the boy’s grandparents and heard a bit of family history that he began to put together the puzzle of Tim.  Once he and Tim had a working hypothesis of the origin of Tim’s incredible intellect, the obvious next step was to test the hypothesis and find more like him. 

As it turned out, it was fairly easy to find the rest of the Wonder children, as Peter styled them, once they knew who to look for.  And Tim found a new project; one that would not only salve his loneliness but possibly save each one of all the Wonder children.  He and Peter started a school for gifted children…but only these particular children.  It would be an opportunity to give all the children an environment in which to be understood and to excel.  But not all these extraordinary children had survived their childhood as unscathed as Tim; many of them were so misunderstood as to be institutionalized or alienated from normal human emotions.  As the new school’s psychiatrist, it fell to Peter to be their guide and savior. But even he could not have envisioned the capabilities of these children.

This is a very gentle story exploring the possibilities of gifted children in a world of lesser beings. It is a cautionary tale advising the necessity of nurturing such children lest they take their abilities too seriously and began to see themselves as godlike.  It assumes that once with their own kind, they would work together and accept well-meaning guidance because they are too intelligent not to see the benefits of doing so. 

Published at a time when most science fiction involved space ships and aliens, this story stood apart by dealing with people in a coming-of-age plot.  It bears more than a hint of Clifford Simak’s and Theodore Sturgeon’s “pastoral” type stories but is delivered in more spare prose with less conflict.  It is difficult to have a successful novel with little or no conflict so while this book suffered some criticism, it still managed to be declared one of "The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953–2002” by the Science Fiction Book Club.

While I typically enjoy a book with more excitement and character development, I still found things about this book I enjoyed, making it a quick read.  It is suspected to be – but never verified – the inspiration for the X-Men.  ~~  Catherine Book

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