Children of the Atom Critical Essays

Wilmar H. Shiras


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Children of the Atom combines two important motifs in science fiction: that of the superbeing, previously portrayed most memorably in Olaf Stapledon’s classic Odd John (1935), and the ubiquitous anxiety caused by the use of atomic weapons in 1945. Human mutations caused by atomic energy would become a staple in science fiction. Examples include John Wyndham’s Re-Birth (1955, also known as The Chrysalids), Lester del Rey’s The Eleventh Commandment (1962), and Edgar Pangborn’s Davy (1964). Wilmar Shiras is perhaps the first, however, to see this kind of catastrophe in the theological sense of a “eucatastrophe”: a felix culpa, or fortunate fall. What will emerge from the sin of using the atom and its inherent powers is not punishment in the form of breeding of monsters but is instead the possibility of advancing the human race to its next evolutionary plane.

In many science-fiction depictions of what Homo superior might be like, a clear line of demarcation is established, and “normal” humans, Homo sapiens, are often treated by the superior race as humans treat animals such as dogs. Odd John’s nickname for the human narrator of Stapledon’s novel, for example, is “Fido.” The first story in Children of the Atom, “In Hiding,” ends with this very image: “Peter Welles would be Tim’s friend—not a puppy, but a beloved friend—as a loyal dog,...

(The entire section is 487 words.)