5 of 5 stars.
Writers often immerse into the worlds of their creation to the point that it becomes quite real to them. That is essentially what transpires in this tale of a cultural anthropology post-doc [Dr. Patrick Nolan] that works through a theoretical simulation of a fictional country, Cimmeria [the Crimea of Conan the Barbarian]. The premise is ridiculous and the outcome is fascinating. This short story shouldn’t be as good as it is as it explores issues of history, tradition, modernization, and expectation.
A team of grad students, post-docs and a professor address different aspects of this fictional Black Sea country: language, founding, mythos, religious and political history etc. After a few essays have been published in the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology, the team go to Cimmeria for the summer to do field research. How they manage to do this is not answered, but may not matter. It’s real to them, and in unexpected ways.
Invented historical happenings lead to surprising real Cimmeria aspects, some innocuous, some baffling. Blue is a culturally lucky color–everyone in Mod. Cimmeria dyes their hair blue. Everyone has cats due to the ancient belief that cats ferry the souls of the dead to heaven. The religious transformations since then have not done away with this tradition. Women can inherit the khan’s throne due to the teachings of an ancient female philosopher. Most perplexing of all is the cultural belief that humans cannot have twins–it is considered one person with one soul in two bodies, or rather it goes unacknowledged.
For Dr. Nolan, this weirdness must be overcome because he cannot unseen the twin of the khan’s eldest daughter, Shalia, whom he marries. Both bodies are one person, one person has both bodies. Until one fails to come home . . .
“Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Lightspeed, July 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]