Archive for Wilmar H. Shiras

Review: Children of the Atom

Posted in 1953, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , on July 18, 2009 by Aaron

Wilmar H. Shiras

This book has quite a reputation (in SF literature at least) for a couple of reasons, and after reading this myself, I would have to say deservedly so.  However, I would like to separate those reasons from my enjoyment in reading it.  Before I get into what I actually thought of the story, I would like to touch upon the reasons this particular book has the reputation it does.

First, this book is considered a very early example of intellectually driven science fiction, as opposed to the action/adventure and technologically oriented ‘space opera’ style fare that was very popular back then.  Not that space opera was the only thing going around, many authors – Heinlein being the prominent example – were beginning to produce tales that saw good character development and a solid grounding in the scientific realities of the times.  But here we see a story built around the central themes of psychology and philosophy.  It’s interesting, it’s refreshing, but leads to a challenge for the typical Gnome Press reader which I’ll address later.

The second thing of note is the similarity to the X-Men comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  Though widely credited with the inspiration behind the now global entertainment franchise, this has never been officially acknowledged.  Indeed though, The parallels between the two tales are there and unmistakable.

There is an excellent synopsis of the book over at Red Jacket Press.  I recommend reading that to get a taste of what the books’ all about.  You can pick up a beautiful and faithful reproduction of this Gnome Press 1st edition also if you wish.  The Red Jacket reproduction is reviewed at SFFWorld.  It’s a more academic review than I like (or are capable doing…), but it’s worth a read.

Back to, and regarding the story however, as much as I enjoyed it as a piece of true science fiction history and as part of the Gnome Press family, I was frustrated by it.

It’s very interesting in places and very droll in others.  It might be better to say the story moves along in some places and stalls in others.  The beginning of the book is engaging, we meet our main characters, uncover the source of Tim’s problems and embark on Peter’s quest to collect and empower these special children.  This continues nicely as we move first to Elsie’s and then to Stella’s stories.  However, once the school is established the story starts to founder.  It perhaps becomes a vehicle for the author to voice some speculations and opinions through hyper-intellectual dialogue amongst the growing population of children.  Things get a little more interesting when mysterious pranks start to occur in the school and the prospect of uncovering the culprit begins to engage us again, only to stumble once the perpetrator is found and we dive into the academic discourse once more. I mentioned the typical Gnome Press reader earlier, and it’s with this issue that I think they would have a problem, as indeed did I.  For all it’s cool premise and intellectual appeal, this story just doesn’t rock – stark contrast to the tale I had just completed, Space Lawyer.

It’s all wrapped up quickly and neatly, and in a way that is just a little anti-climactic and bit disappointing.  An interesting book?  Sure.  A different book?  Yes.  Worth reading?  Of course.  But a fun book?  No, not for me anyway.

Just as a footnote, is this book really ‘science fiction’?  The only possible elements of any kind of real sf I could discerne was that it’s set in the ‘future’ (the early 1970s), and that these kids’ intellects were boosted by their parents’ exposure to a dose of radiation.  Are these things enough to constitute a real science fiction story??  I dunno, you be the judge on that.

Close Up II: Children of the Atom

Posted in 1953, Close Up, Comparisons with tags , , on July 13, 2009 by Aaron

closeupAs I mentioned in the original Close Up, I want to look closely at the two jackets I have for this book.  Both jackets are barely Good, but I’m not sure which is the better.  I’m just going to offer the two jackets up for closer analysis and any opinions would be most welcome.  Click the pics to see large size images.

The first jacket is the original – the one that came with the book.  We saw this in the first Close Up.
COTA01COTA01_inSomething I didn’t mention earlier is the existence of reinforcing tape on the inside.  Check it out.
Something else I didn’t mention was that cover artist Frank Kelly Freas’ name is misspelled on the rear flap – Frank Kelley Frease.  That’s something for the trivia section.

The second jacket was thrown in for me when I picked up ‘Travelers of Space’, ‘Five SF Novels’ and ‘Men Against the Stars’.  Thanks Matt.  Anyway, I’m not sure which is the superior, they both have similar defects, but I suspect the second jacket might be slightly better because there aren’t any holes, the edges are generally better and there’s no tape.  However, there is some slight discoloration on the second, most noticeable on the spine, and the jacket isn’t quite as bright.  Have a look.
COTA02What do you think?

Close Up: Children of the Atom

Posted in 1953, Close Up with tags , , on July 12, 2009 by Aaron

closeupWilmar H. Shiras

An in-demand Gnome Press title.  I got this as part of a package together with Heinlein’s Sixth Column and The Survivors by Tom Godwin.  I perhaps paid a little too much for all three, but was nevertheless satisfied with those acquisitions.  I have two dust jackets for this but we’ll compare them at a later date.  Here, we’ll look at the book in the jacket I received it in.  A few issues to inspect here, so lets check them out.
The general condition as you can see, is a bit on the poor side.  Minus the jacket though, this copy is still very good.
There is no Currey listing for this, so I don’t know about different bindings.  At a first edition printing of 5000 copies, it seems possible that there was more than one binding state.  Perhaps someone could help me out with regards to that.
You can see the general tatty nature of all edges of the jacket.  The spine is square though a little looser than I would like.  Nothing serious though.  The block shows some small dust-staining on the top, but the bottom is still nice and white.
Lets have a closer look at those issues.
General wearing and tearing at the head and tail of the spine, but the tail isn’t too bad.
The wrap-around on the top front shows a nasty tear and wear.
Let’s have a look further down the same edge.
A small hole there on the ‘s’ and note the tearing that is pretty consistent around the whole book.  Just above the hole is some black scuffing.
It’s taken a knock on the spine, two chips there with one completely out.
That’s probably my biggest disappointment with this jacket.  The back of the jacket is more or less the same as the front.
You can’t really make it out in the photo, but there is some discoloration on the jacket down the spine just next to where the front coloring starts.  But to finish on my favorite high with GP books, those lovely little touches.
See the little spheres??  Beautiful.

Year: 1953
Paid: $50
Art: Frank Kelly Freas
Quantity: 5000 copies.
Binding: Red cloth binding with darker lettering. No Currey listing.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: Nice to have this book, but shame about those chips and the general state of the jacket.
Expand Upon:, Internet Speculative Fiction Database


Oh… Joy!!

Posted in New Arrivals with tags , , , , , , on March 15, 2009 by Aaron

happyjoyFinally!!  They have arrived.  After a circuitous and torturous (for me) route to from St James, New York to Seoul, South Korea via Napier, New Zealand, they are here.  My latest three additions of 1st editions to the library.  All significant and sought after editions too.  The Survivors by Tom Godwin, Wilmar ShirasChildren of the Atom and my second Heinlein 1st edition, Sixth Column.  They all look great but all have minor flaws apart from the usual and expected, but I’ll get into those when I do the Close Ups.

Finally on their way…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2009 by Aaron

Jean, the very kind and patient person off whom I got The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, finally received a cheque the other day that I had sent from NZ.  It took 3 weeks to arrive!!  No wonder they call it snail mail…  So, posted to me yesterday were Sixth Column by Robert Heinlein, Tom Godwin‘s The Survivors and Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras.  I’m especially looking forward to another Heinlein 1st edition.

Also yesterday I won The Complete Book of Outer Space, a collection of non-fiction edited by one Jeffrey Logan.  I think this is about the only thing he ever did.

Finished Starman’s Quest yesterday too.  I’ll have the Close Up posted soon and the Review probably by the weekend.


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