Monday, December 17, 2018

Women in Science Fiction -- Wilmar Shiras

Ruth de Jauregui

Shiras' 1953 College Yearbook Photo
While her output wasn't large, author Wilmar House Shiras (1908–1990) was a huge influence in the science fiction world. In fact, some sources credit her main work Children of the Atom as having influenced the creation of Stan Lee's and Jack Kirby's The Uncanny X-Men.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she spend her formative years there and began her college education at Boston University. She left the university in her freshman year to marry Russell Shiras. They moved to the West Coast and raised five children.

Shiras did go back to college eventually. She earned her bachelor's at the College of the Holy Names in 1955 and master's in history at the University of California at Berkeley in 1956.

It was while living in Oakland, California, that Shiras published her first book Slow Dawning (1946) under the pen name Jane Howes. It was an autobiographical story of her conversion to Catholicism. She also wrote reviews under the Howes pen name for New Catholic World and other magazines as well as her translations of Catholic theology and philosophy.

First publication of "In Hiding" November 1948
Upon the urging of her family and friends, Shiras submitted her first science fiction story "In Hiding" to Astounding Science Fiction. Published in the November 1948, it set the tone for her science fiction career. She later said, “Whatever else I wrote came back with a note asking for another ‘In Hiding.’”

She followed "In Hiding," the  tale of the super-intelligent children born of parents exposed to radiation, with two more tales "Opening Doors" and "New Foundations." The three stories, all published in Astounding, led to the book Children of the Atom (Gnome Press, 1953). Set in the America of 1972, the group of children face a world that doesn't understand their genius. Unlike the later X-Men comic books, Shiras' protagonists didn't have paranormal or super powers – they were "just" really intelligent.

Shiras' prose was favorably compared to famed science fiction writers Theodore Sturgeon and Clifford D. Simak. Though reviewer Groff Conklin praised the novel for its character development, other reviewers felt that the novel was not up to the writing and promise of the original stories.

Gnome Press Edition (1953)
Children of the Atom was listed as number 14 on the list of "The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002" by the Science Fiction Book Club. Shiras' vision of science fiction focused on the intellectual rather than the "space opera," leading to more mature stories in the genre. Sadly, she didn't write more stories during her relatively short sci-fi career.

Amazon – Wilmar Shiras Author Page