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Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Publication.


US Slick men's magazine published by HMH Publications, Chicago, under Hugh M Hefner, monthly from December 1953 (first issue undated), until 2009, which saw only 11 issues; ten issues per year from 2012 to 2016 and bimonthly from January/February 2017. Letter size and saddle-stapled to allow opening flat for the centrefold. Despite the obvious fantasies that Playboy offered, Hefner also wanted the magazine to provide intellectual and commercial stimulation, aiming the magazine at the top businessmen and executives of the day as much as at college students. As a consequence the magazine runs a considerable amount or fiction by the leading writers of the day and the quality of Playboy's literary content has been down to a group of talented editors. Hefner's first associate editor, with responsibility for the fiction, was Ray Russell who shared with Hefner an interest in weird and macabre fiction – Hefner had been an avid reader of Weird Tales during the 1940s and had even joined the "Weird Tales Club". In July 1956 Hefner appointed A C Spectorsky (1910-1972) as literary editor, and he soon rose to be executive editor and publisher. In 1966, after Russell stepped down, Spectorsky appointed Robie MacAuley as fiction editor. When Spectorsky died in 1972 he was succeeded by Arthur Kretchmer, who served as executive editor until 2003. Soon after Macauley stepped down as fiction editor in 1976, Kretchmer appointed Alice K Turner who served as fiction editor from 1980 to 2000. It was primarily under these editors that Playboy's sf flourished.

At the outset most of the fiction in Playboy was reprinted from elsewhere and even included a series of "ribald" classics from the likes of Petronius and Straparola. Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953) was reprinted in the March and April 1954 issues. Bradbury soon became a regular contributor, and his later original stories included "The Best of All Possible Worlds" (August 1960), "A Miracle of Rare Device" (January 1962), "The Lost City of Mars" (January 1967) and "The Toynbee Convector" (January 1984). Ray Russell was himself a regular contributor of weird fiction, most notably with his two macabre stories "Sardonicus" (January 1961) and "Sagittarius" (March 1962). Russell also secured material from Charles Beaumont, usually regarded as one of the Bradbury circle of writers. Beaumont, welcomed by Hefner as a fellow jazz enthusiast, was able to contribute articles on popular culture, including one on Comics (March 1961) and "The Bloody Pulps" (September 1962). Richard Matheson, another of the Bradbury school, was also an early contributor, from May 1956, and his best known Playboy story is probably "No Such Thing as a Vampire" (October 1959). Amongst the artwork in Playboy were occasional humorous cartoons by Gahan Wilson whose work had caught the editorial eye enabling an introduction in "The Weird World of Gahan Wilson" (May 1959). Wilson's work tended to parody images of horror rather than sf, though he also contributed the occasional short story such as "The Manuscript of Dr. Arness" (August 1966), a Lovecraftian spoof of an experiment that misfires.

Other contributors in the 1950s included Avram Davidson, Robert Sheckley, Henry Slesar and, perhaps surprisingly, Arthur C Clarke, long before his fame with 2001: A Space Odyssey. His first appearance was with "Let There be Light" (February 1958) followed by "I Remember Babylon" (March 1960) and "Maelstrom II" (April 1962). Clarke's "A Meeting with Medusa" (December 1971) was the first story from Playboy to win an sf award, the Nebula. Clarke's own favourite story was "A Transit of Earth" (January 1971) but perhaps of more lasting significance was "Dial F for Frankenstein" (January 1964), as it was reading this story that sowed one of the seeds in the mind of Tim Berners-Lee for the Internet. The best known sf story in Playboy in the 1950s was "The Fly" (June 1957) by George Langelaan, made famous by the movie adaptations. Surprisingly, Langelaan had no other items in Playboy.

Sf in Playboy entered a new phase in the July and August 1963 issues where the occasional feature, the Playboy Panel, considered "1984 and Beyond", with contributions by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Ray Bradbury, Algis Budrys, Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Rod Serling, Theodore Sturgeon, William Tenn and A E van Vogt. This perhaps overly optimistic view of the future has never been reprinted but was, unusually, later made into a three-screen video installation: 1984 and Beyond (2007) by Gerard Byrne, not generally distributed or available but shown at arts festivals. The 1963 feature seemed to open the door to more contributions by sf writers, with both fiction and articles. In addition to those in the Panel, the 1960s saw work by J G Ballard, with "Souvenir" (May 1965; vt "The Drowned Giant"), Thomas M Disch, Damon Knight, Norman Spinrad and Ursula K Le Guin – her debut being notorious because the editor insisted that her story "Nine Lives" (November 1969) bear the by-line U K Le Guin. Not surprisingly, Le Guin did not contribute to Playboy again for another twenty years, receiving more respect from Alice Turner with "Unlocking the Air" (December 1990).

There had been an Interview with Ayn Rand as far back as the March 1964 issue, but apart from Le Guin's presence the extent of women contributors to Playboy on serious matters remained limited. Joyce Carol Oates appeared with "Saul Bird Says: Relate! Communicate! Liberate!" (October 1970), and other stories during the 1970s, Doris Lessing with "Report on the Threatened City" (November 1971) and much later Margaret Atwood with "The Bog Man" (1991). Otherwise Playboy remained a male preserve. Other contributors during the 1970s and 1980s included Michael Crichton, Philip K Dick, George Alec Effinger, Harlan Ellison, Philip José Farmer, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Stephen King, Lucius Shepard and Robert Silverberg. Most were represented by only one or two stories. Silverberg, however, became a more regular contributor with eleven stories between "Gianni" (February 1982) and "The Millennium Express" (January 2000); he went into print acknowledging how skilled Alice Turner was as an editor. In the 1990s the only major new contributors of sf were Terry Bisson and Dan Simmons. Bisson contributed four stories; it was through Alice Turner's recommendation that Bisson was commissioned by Walter M Miller Jr's estate to complete Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1998).

Turner stepped down as editor in 2000, and although Playboy still publishes the occasional sf story, it is not on the same scale as before and there is a feeling that the magazine has moved on. Playboy's high pay rates certainly helped otherwise low-paid sf writers, but more importantly the regular publication of sf in Playboy gave it a wider audience and a level of acceptability.

A number of anthologies have drawn upon sf in Playboy. These include The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (anth 1966), Playboy's Stories of the Sinister and Strange (anth 1969), The Dead Astronaut (anth 1971), The Fiend (anth 1971), From the "S" File (anth 1971), The Fully Automated Love Life of Henry Keanridge (anth 1971), Last Train to Limbo (anth 1971), Masks (anth 1971), Transit of Earth (anth 1971) and Weird Show (anth 1971) – all of which were credited simply to the Editors of Playboy but were primarily the work of Ray Russell. Later and more representative is The Playboy Book of Science Fiction (anth 1998) edited by Alice K Turner. [MA]

see also: Eric Norden.


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