Short Story #3: “The Days of Solomon Gursky” — Ian McDonald (1998)
Truly one of the more ambitious short stories ever, “The Days of Solomon Gursky” focuses on a scientist who discovers a form of immortality and follows his career over the next, oh, 40 billion years or so, dropping in on him during seven key days. This “one week” in the life of the character is both a play on the English nursery rhyme “Solomon Grundy” and a re-envisioning of the creation story from the book of Genesis. McDonald crams dozens of scientific concepts onto each page, daring you to keep up as he skips from idea to idea on the long arc of Gursky’s adventure to the end of the universe and beyond. And yet, thanks to the pathos at the core of the story, the frantic pace of “Days” has genuine gravity: Although he has reshaped reality in his own image, Solomon Gursky cannot find the lost love of his life, who once sacrificed herself helping humanity escape from a losing war in deep space.
Many of the ‘big ideas’ in this story echo those found in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but with a serious bent. McDonald’s writing is just as often poetic as it is prose — think “The English Patient” — giving it a different feel than most sci-fi dealing with nanotechnology, genetic engineering, custom-made planets and pan-dimensional beings. You can find a pirated version of “The Days of Solomon Gursky” online, but this is one story worth tracking down.