Thursday, October 1, 2015

Playboy Fiction Anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s


Beginning in 1966 with The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Playboy Press, the book publishing arm of the popular men's magazine, began publishing a series of book anthologies which mined the magazine's accumulated collection of short-form horror, crime, and science fiction. The magazine's fiction editor at the time was Ray Russell (1924-1999), a noted writer of novels and stories (Sardonicus and Other Stories, The Case Against Satan, Unholy Trinity) and films (The Premature Burial; X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes), whose tastes shaped the fiction featured in the magazine and who had, since the magazine's beginnings, bought fiction from the finest genre writers of the time.
Playboy was a high paying market which allowed its writers to produce works free of the restraining components of genre magazines and of a more violent and sexually exploratory nature than was acceptable to the mainstream "slick" magazines. The result was the accumulation in a single market of some of the most outstanding horror, crime, and science fiction of the time. In a relatively short number of years the magazine had assembled a wealth of high quality genre material with first book publication rights held on nearly all of it. Once Playboy Press was created to compete in the book publishing industry, it became obvious how to use that store of quality genre fiction. 


The Playboy Press anthologies arrived slowly. 1966 saw the release of The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense in hardcover. It was followed the next year with the hardcover release of The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural. 1968 saw all three books reprinted in paperback editions. Playboy's Stories of the Sinister & Strange, a paperback, followed in 1969. These titles are still highly sought after items, notable for the quality of the fiction. 

After a quiet 1970 in which Playboy Press published no genre anthologies, nine paperbacks appeared in 1971, most of them under the banner title Playboy Science Fiction, under which additional science fiction novels and single author collections appeared. Many of the stories contained within the anthologies combined elements of science fiction and horror, a type of genre mash-up that was particularly popular at the time. Stories of psychological alienation and of man's diminishing importance in the face of an infinite universe proliferated. A self-consciously modernized form of the horror story matured in the pages of the magazine, as well. These stories were set in a recognizable urban or suburban middle-class milieu, where monstrosity, murder, and mutation were as likely as after-dinner cocktails. 

The anthologies were occasionally themed ("10 Stories of Space Flight," etc.) and usually took the book title from that of the lead story within. A partial list of notable authors represented in the anthologies includes J.G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Beaumont, Frederik Pohl, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Robert Sheckley, Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Gerald Kersh, Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, Dennis Etchison, Anthony Boucher, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Henry Slesar, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Avram Davidson, William Tenn, Damon Knight, Italo Calvino, and Arthur Porges. 

After the fruitful year of 1971, the production of this type of book from Playboy Press abruptly slowed down. 1974 saw an anthology of crime stories, Murder, My Love, but Playboy Press began to concentrate efforts on works of original fiction and on non-fiction books consisting of reprint material, such as Beyond Reason: Playboy's Book of Psychic Phenomena (1973).  


There was a brief resurgence of the horror anthology from Playboy Press beginning in 1979 with Nightmares, compiled by noted horror writer and editor Charles L. Grant. This anthology, and those which followed, were unlike the preceding anthologies in that the stories were not first published in the magazine. Grant's work with Playboy Press continued with the paperback edition of the initial volume of his celebrated Shadows series in 1980, followed by Horrors in 1981, and Terrors in 1982. Stuart David Schiff, creator of Whispers magazine (1973-1983), delivered the horror anthology Death in 1982. The contents of these anthologies were a combination of established masters (Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, William F. Nolan, Joseph Payne Brennan) and younger writers, many of whom were on the verge of fueling the emerging horror publishing "boom" of the 1980's. These horror anthologies from Playboy Press, along with excellent horror anthologies compiled by literary agent Kirby McCauley between 1975-1980 (Night Chills, Beyond Midnight, Frights, Dark Forces), were a significant part of the foundation upon which the horror publishing boom was built, pushing horror into the mainstream of the publishing industry.  

In 1980, Playboy Press published the retrospective volume Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction in hardcover. It is a celebration of the best from Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine with stories from the magazine's archives and memoirs from the writers that contributed to the magazine. It was also a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club.

Ray Russell was succeeded by Alice K. Turner as Playboy fiction editor in 1976. Fortunately, Turner also had a taste for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She compiled a hardcover volume in 1999 titled The Playboy Book of Science Fiction, about half of which is from her tenure as fiction editor of the magazine.

Most of the volumes discussed here are highly affordable to purchase online or at quality used bookstores. Covers featured here are shared from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org




Checklist:

-Most of the anthologies were compiled by Playboy fiction editor Ray Russell and credited only as by "The Editors of Playboy." It is noted below where Russell was not the editor. Paperback publication for books which originally appeared in hardcover are noted. 

1966:
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (paperback, 1968)
The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense (paperback, 1968)

1967:

The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural (paperback, 1968)

1969:
Playboy's Stories of the Sinister & Strange

1971:

Transit of Earth
Last Train to Limbo
From the "S" File
The Dead Astronaut
The Fiend
Masks
The Fully Automated Love Life of Henry Keanridge
Weird Show
The Future is Now (edited by William F. Nolan; originally appeared in hardcover in 1970 from Sherbourne Press)

1974

Murder, My Love (edited by Eric Corder)

1979

Nightmares (edited by Charles L. Grant)

1980

Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (edited by Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander; paperback, 2 vols, 1981)
Shadows (edited by Charles L. Grant)

1981

Horrors (edited by Charles L. Grant)

1982
Death (edited by Stuart David Schiff)
Terrors (edited by Charles L. Grant)

1998

The Playboy Book of Science Fiction (edited by Alice K. Turner; paperback, 1999)

--JP

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back! Looking forward to the next episode review!

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