Throughout 2022, I’ll be reviewing short stories. Some of these may be classics, others forgotten. The two things that all will have in common is that they are part of my personal collection and they will be selected through a randomization process. What works and authors I look at will be entirely selected by a roll of the dice.
“Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes appeared in the January 1965 edition of Analog Science Fiction – Science Fact, an issues more noted for including the first part of Frank Herbert’s serial The Prophet of Dune, which would eventually be published as the second part of the novel Dune. The issue also included stories by Christopher Anvil, Harry Harrison, John T. Phillifent, and James H. Schmitz.
Sipes was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania and in 1928 and died in Missouri on June 12, 1989. He worked as aan Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Long Island University and was a cross-cultural correlation methodologist who wrote several papers on the topic, including “War Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories” and “War, Combative Sports, and Aggression: a Preliminary Causal Model of Cultural Patterning.”
“Final Report” really doesn’t qualify as a short story. There are no characters and it has no plot. Instead, the piece is a written as an army evaluation of new communications equipment. Sipes’ language and format follow a very proscribed and technical manner and he commits fully to the piece. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making the essay dry. The reader keeps expecting Sipes to deviate and throw in something humorous or off kilter as the testing of the equipment enters the science fictional realm, however the entire article is written almost straight faced.
The device as described allows instantaneous communication between two wearers across an unknown distance. The article describes a variety of situations in which it was tested, all of which the equipment passes. However, despite being a major breakthrough in communications, the author of the report can only find issues. Because the devices are intuitive to use and require no maintenance, he can’t recommend their use by the armed forces because they might fall into enemy hands. Since there is no way to subvert their use, any devices that do find their way to the enemy would give them an advantage, despite the fact that having the devices already gives our own military an advantage.
“Final Report” has some subtlety to it and occasionally it shows signs of wit, however Sipes was a little too attached to the conceit of making the piece read like a dry military evaluation document with the result that it doesn’t entirely hold the reader’s interest for the duration. Even if it hadn’t been surrounded by the other authors in this issue of Analog, this particular story would not have stood out and the fact that it is not known today is reflective of the story itself.
Sipes only appears to have published one other science fiction story, “Of Terrans Bearing Gifts,” which would appear in the May 1967 issue of Analog. His only other publications are the non-fiction, including the study Population Growth, Society and Culture: An Inventory of Cross-Culturally Tested Causal Hypotheses, which, based on its title may be dryer than “Final Report.”
Steven H Silver is an eighteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.