The Preface and editorial duties for The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy are credited to "the editors of Playboy," but according to isfdb it was Ray Russell who was responsible for putting the book together. In the Preface Russell brags that Playboy changed the SF landscape by being the first "slick" to consistently publish SF, and because Playboy paid much higher rates than the genre magazines. Russell really sticks it to the SF magazines, claiming they were too "solemn" and "sober" to publish light-hearted stories like "Blood Brother" by Charles Beaumont and too obsessed with realistic science to publish Ray Bradbury's "The Vacation."
Today we'll take a look at four stories from this anthology, two each from Charles Beaumont and Arthur C. Clarke.
"Blood Brother" by Charles Beaumont (1961)
Ugh, a five-page joke story about a vampire who goes to the psychiatrist. And these are the kind of jokes we get:
"I've been meaning to ask you about that. Why do you wear it?"
"You ever hear of a vampire without a cape? It's part of the whole schmear, that's all. I don't know why!"
Back in 2014 when I read Ramsey Campbell's "Sunshine Club" and Michael Bishop's "Gravid Babies" I issued my jeremiad against vampire psychiatrist and werewolf psychiatrist stories, horror joke stories in general, and humor based on references to pop culture. My aversion to these excrescences has not eased in the years that have passed! You know how the government compels Breyers to label those of its products that lack a certain amount of milk fat "Frozen Dairy Dessert" instead of "Ice Cream" so picky consumers can avoid them? Well, I am slapping the "Tepid Derivative Genre Fiction" label on "Blood Brother" so picky readers can avoid it!
"The Crooked Man" by Charles Beaumont (1955)
Russell writes a little intro to each story, and in the intro to this one brags that the (unnamed) top men's magazine before the arrival of Playboy refused to publish "The Crooked Man," but Playboy eagerly presented it to the world.
It is the 27th Century. There are no families and no private homes...and everybody is born in a test tube and lives in a dorm...and everybody is a homosexual! Well, almost everybody. The tiny number of heterosexuals are pursued by the police, and if caught given surgery to alter their hormonal balances and brain functions so they cease feeling all those unnatural urges regarding the opposite sex!
"The Crooked Man" is the kind of story which was perhaps a big deal at the time it was written, but is now an historical artifact that feels gimmicky. Just acceptable.
"I Remember Babylon" by Arthur C. Clarke (1960)
And that's it; this is more of an idea than a plot-driven story. Even though it is over fifty years old some of the issues "I Remember Babylon" raises--the pervasiveness and effect on people of pornography and how much influence biased media and inaccurate reporting, particularly those generated by foreign entities, has on the political beliefs and activities of Americans--are at the center of public debate today Smoothly written, brief, and thought-provoking, I thought this one worth my time.
"Dial 'F' For Frankenstein" by Arthur C. Clarke (1965)
This one feels like a trifle.
Tossing the inimical "Blood Brother" aside, we see that the three other stories from Playboy we've looked at are more about showcasing ideas than portraying human drama or drawing compelling characters. And so they feel pretty bland. Well, we'll sample some more of the offerings from The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy in our next installment; maybe they will provide some excitement.