Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Talus Slope
by Joseph Green

Who Benefits From War?
by Hayden Trenholm

Those Magnificent Stars
by Clare L. Deming

A Soldier Undreams
by Bret Carter

Eating Disorder
by Len Dawson

My Shaigetz
by Marcy Arlin

Two Timing
by Rik Hunik

To Dance With the Girls of Ios-5
by Ted Blasche


Psychology and Science Fiction
by Ann Gimpel, Ph.D.

Get Up and Go Somewhen
by J. Richard Jacobs

In Time For Evolution
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Psychology and Science Fiction

By Ann Gimpel, Ph.D.

PEOPLE HAVE MORE SELVES than one, more hopes than one, more dreams than one—from the Sufi story, Paradise of Song.

Rod Serling said, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.”

Robert Heinlein’s definition of science fiction is: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.

Taking Serling and Heinlein one step further, science fiction has its origin in possibilities that just haven’t happened yet. With a tad more research, though, we might be aboard the Starship Enterprise cruising through the galaxy exploring wormholes. Or exploiting the fluid nature of time like in the movie “Déjà Vu.”

Science fiction has a universal appeal. It’s been around since Greek and Roman times, but didn’t get really popular until the 1800s with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall,” about a flight to the moon. Jules Verne’s and H.G. Well’s adventure science fiction hooked even those who weren’t science fiction buffs.

Why do we read science fiction? What is it about the genre that keeps readers (although not nearly so many as in previous years) coming back to the well for more? Like its close cousin, contemporary/urban fantasy, science fiction has a plausibility factor. Even the space-linked adventures like Star Trek and Star Wars have roots going back to Earth. It may be a futuristic version of Earth, but nonetheless our human heritage shows up front and center. This makes it much easier to project ourselves into the story and give our imagination free rein. Aliens from another galaxy are more believable than vampires.

All the hard science fiction periodical submission guidelines say the same thing: One of the hallmarks of science fiction is that if you take the science away, you no longer have a story. Before I remove my author hat, the other thing I’d like to note is that it’s hard to write science fiction. Unlike the fantasy genre where I get to make things up, I have to rein in that tendency if my science fiction stories are going to ring true. Sure, I may want something to happen, but if it violates some important scientific principle or precept, suddenly I no longer have a science fiction tale.

So what is it about any fiction, science-based or otherwise, that draws us? Why do we lose ourselves in one story, while tossing another before the end of the second chapter? How can our closest friend—or our spouses—think a story was incredible when we struggled to finish it? Or didn’t if it felt like too much work.

The Hero’s Journey

Let me digress a moment to discuss the concept of the heroic journey because it’s an omni-present element in most successful fiction.

In 1839, a young scientist and Englishman, Henry Austen Layard, set out to travel overland to Ceylon, the island now known as Sri Lanka. Halfway through his journey, when he was crossing the wild desert region known as Mesopotamia, his curiosity was aroused by a series of mysterious mounds in the sand. He paused to investigate them and ended up making archaeological history. He’d stumbled on the remains of one of the earliest cities every built by humankind: Nineveh.

Clay tablets covered in small, wedge-shaped marks that were obviously a form of writing were uncovered in 1853. It took twenty more years, but when the cuneiform script was finally translated in 1872, it included fragments of a long, epic poem. Dating back to the dawn of civilization, it was by far the earliest written work in the world.

I’m sure you know I’m talking about Sumerian myth, “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” It tells how the kingdom of Uruk fell under a terrible shadow of great and mysterious evil. The source of the threat is traced to a monstrous figure, Humbaba, who lives halfway round the world, at the heart of a remote forest. The herohero, Gilgamesh, goes to the armourers who equip him with special weapons: a great bow and a mighty axe. He sets out on a long, hazardous journey to Humbaba’s distant lair. Finally, he comes face to face with the monster. They enter into a series of taunting exchanges, then embark on a Titanic struggle. Though it seems Gilgamesh cannot possibly win, he manages to kill his opponent. The shadowy threat has been lifted. Gilgamesh saves his kingdom and returns home triumphant.

Let’s roll the clock forward. In the autumn of 1962, nearly 5000 years after the story of Gilgamesh was placed in the library at Nineveh—a period encompassing almost the whole of recorded human history—a fashionable crowd converged on Leicester Square in London for the premiere of a new film. “Dr. No” was the first of what was to become, over the next 40 years, the most popular series of films ever made.

Consider the story which launched the series of James Bond films. The western world falls under the shadow of a great and mysterious evil. The source of the threat is traced to a monstrous figure, the mad and deformed scientist, Dr. No, who lives halfway around the world in an underground cavern on a remote island. The hero, James Bond, goes to the armourer, who equips him with special weapons. He sets out on a long and hazardous journey to Dr. No’s distant lair, where he finally comes face to face with the monster. They enter into a series of taunting exchanges, then embark on a titanic struggle. It seems Bond cannot possibly win, but he manages to kill his opponent. The shadowy threat has been lifted. The western world has been saved. Bond returns home triumphant.

The similarities between Gilgamesh and Dr. No are obvious. If you look closely at most successful fiction, you can find elements of the hero’s journey. But let’s personalize this a bit more.

Why We Read What We Do

Reactions to fiction are actually a crossroads where our personalities run up against archetypes. To the extent we can relate to the archetypes in the story, it will resonate for us.

Let’s begin with personality structure. Then we’ll discuss archetypes and look at a few basic ones.

Personality Types. The discussion below is just one representation of how people differ along a number of dimensions. There are many, many instruments to measure personality. We will use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment. The thing I like about the Myers-Briggs is there aren’t any “wrong” constellations of personality variables. We are all combinations of our genetics and our upbringing; thus we all view the world through a slightly different lens.

As fiction readers, we bring something unique to the table: ourselves. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality scale developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. First published in 1962, the Myers-Briggs is drawn from Carl Jung’s earlier work, “Psychological Types.”

Jung’s original work looked at three continua: Introvert/Extravert, Sensing/Intuition, and Thinking/Feeling. Myers and Briggs added a fourth: Perceiving/Judging.

Briefly, extraverts are action oriented, seek breadth of knowledge, prefer frequent interaction and recharge from spending time with people. Introverts, on the other hand, are thought oriented, seek depth of knowledge, prefer more in-depth interaction and recharge from spending time alone.

Sensing and intuition are information gathering functions. Sensate people are more likely to trust information that is tangible, here right now, and can be understood by the five senses. Intuitives prefer the abstract. They find meaning in underlying principles and theory. A standing joke in Jungian circles is everyone is intuitive, so no one is capable of reading the instruction manuals to put anything together.

Thinking and feeling are decision-making functions. Thinkers tend to decide things from a more detached viewpoint. Feelers make decisions by empathizing with the situation. Often these two types are at loggerheads with one another.

Perceiving and judging are lifestyle choices. Perceivers like to keep decisions open. Judgers prefer closure.

It is important to keep in mind that people can fall at any point along these four continua, which makes for an almost infinite array of personality patterns. The reason I went into all this is because who you are determines what kind of literature resonates for you. Which kinds of heroes feel real and what kinds of books you are drawn to. It’s also a good lead-in to the next topic of archetypes.

Archetypes. If you look at your favorite tale, it’s a good bet you’ll find archetypes within it that sing to you. As soon as you enter any speculative world, recurring character types and relationships crop up. Basically, an archetype is an ancient pattern of personality that is part of the shared heritage of the human race.

Jung believed in the concept of a Collective Unconscious. Stories, including science fiction, are like the dreams of an entire culture, springing from the Collective. It is not accidental that there are relatively few archetypal patterns. It is also not accidental that archetypes have been amazingly constant throughout all times and cultures, occurring in the dreams and personalities of individuals as well as in the mythic imagination of the entire world.

Commonly recognized archetypal representations are the wicked witch, the villain, the crone, the innocent and the victim to name a few. Fairy tales are full of these figures. Marie Louise Von Franz, a disciple of Jung’s and a brilliant and fascinating woman, wrote several books about archetypal presence in fairy tales.

Let’s look at a few of the more common archetypes and their function in fiction. I’ve used the masculine pronoun, but archetypal figures can be female, androgynous, aliens, or animals. And I’ve tried to tease out both the psychological and dramatic functions of each.


Psychological Function: Represents the ego. In stories at first heroes are all ego: that personal identity that is separate from the group. In the ego’s search for identity and wholeness, it must integrate all parts of the inner landscape to become Self. Along the way, the hero finds teachers, guides, demons, gods, mates, servants, scapegoats, masters, seducers, betrayers and allies. All the villains, tricksters, lovers, friends and foes of the Hero can be found within ourselves. (That last sentence is important. It bears re-reading.)

An important element of the journey is the incorporation of Shadow. More on that can be found below.

Dramatic Function: Audience identification, growth, action, sacrifice, confrontation with death. Out of all of these, sacrifice is crucial. It is the hero’s willingness to give up something of value up to and including his own life, on behalf of an idea or the common good. Heroes are symbols of the soul in transformation and of the journey each person makes through life. It’s why they’re so easy to identify with.

Your reactions to any story are predicated on how closely you can relate to the hero in the tale. Keep in mind, heroes can wear many faces. A few include the sub-archetypes of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Crone, Innocent, Orphan, Caregiver, Revolutionary, or Jester.


Psychological Function: Represents the Self, the god within us, the aspect of personality that is connected with what is wise, noble and godlike. Mentor figures stand for the hero’s highest aspirations. Mentors are often former heroes passing on life’s knowledge and wisdom.

Dramatic Function: Teaching, gift giving (but gifts must be earned), conscience (inner mentor), planting information that will be useful later, sexual initiation and invention. Obi Wan Kenobi is a classic mentor figure.

Threshold Guardian.

Psychological Function: Psychological Function (Neuroses): Represents the ordinary obstacles we all face in the world around us like bad weather, bad luck, prejudice and oppression. On a deeper level, they stand for our internal demons: emotional scars, vices, dependencies and self-imposed limitations.

Dramatic Function: Guardians test the hero. When heroes confront a Threshold Guardian, they must solve a puzzle, or pass a test. One of the most common ways of dealing with them is to pretend to be them by borrowing a uniform and sneaking into the enemy’s camp thus disguised. Learning to deal with Threshold Guardians is one of the major tests of a hero’s journey. Think of Frodo sneaking into Mordor disguised as an orc.


Psychological Function: They announce the need for change. The call can come from a dream, a book, a person, or just about anywhere.

Dramatic Function: They provide motivation, offer the hero a challenge and get the story rolling. They alert the hero that change and adventure are coming.

Shakespeare’s plays are rife with Heralds. The next time you watch one, be sure to look for the Heralds.


These change appearance or mood frequently and are difficult for the hero to pin down. They may mislead the hero. Their loyalty/sincerity is often in question. Wizards, witches and ogres are traditional Shapeshifters in fairy tales. Odo in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is a traditional Shapeshifter both literally and figuratively.

Psychological Function: They express the energy of anima and animus. Historically the female characteristics of men and the masculine in women have been sternly repressed by society. These repressed qualities live within us and are manifested in dreams and fantasies as anima/animus. An encounter with either is an opportunity for psychological growth.

Dramatic Function: Shapeshifters are catalysts for change. They bring doubt and suspense into a story. When the hero keeps wondering whether he’ll be betrayed, a Shapeshifter is always present. A common Shapeshifter is the femme fatale. Another example is the Michael Douglas character in “Romancing the Stone.” A classic example is when Menelaus, one of the heroes returning from the Trojan War, traps Proteus to force information out of him. Proteus changes into a lion, a snake, a panther, a boar, running water and a tree. But Menelaus and his men hold fast. Eventually Proteus returns to his true form and yields answers to their questions. So, if heroes are patient with Shapeshifters, the truth may eventually come out.


Psychological Function: Represents the power of repressed feelings. Deep trauma and guilt fester when exiled to the darkness of the unconscious. When emotions are hidden/denied, they can turn into something that wants to destroy us. Many Shadow figures are also Shapeshifters like vampires and werewolves.

Dramatic Function: Challenges the hero. Gives him a worthy opponent in the struggle. Creates conflict. Shadow may also wear masks of other archetypes. Look at Hannibal Lecter who also functions as Mentor to Jodie Foster. Shadow can be humanized by making it vulnerable (let’s hear it for three dimensional antagonists!). The bad guy is much scarier if he (or she) has some redeeming characteristics.


Psychological Function: Represents the unexpressed or unused parts of the personality that must be brought into action to do their jobs. Also represents powerful internal forces that can come to our aid.

Dramatic Function: Allies thrive in the modern world of storytelling. They suggest alternative paths for problem-solving and allow expression of fear, humor or ignorance that might not be appropriate for the hero. They also help the hero develop his capacity to ask for and receive help. Allies need not be human. They can be animals, spirits, angels or imaginary friends.


Psychological Function: Catalyst characters. They cut big egos down to size and bring heroes and audiences down to earth. They provoke healthy laughter and help us realize our common bonds as they point out hypocrisy and folly. Trickster energy can express itself through impish accidents or slips of the tongue that alert us to the need for change.

Dramatic Function: Comic relief. Loki is the Norse god of trickery and deceit. A true Trickster, he serves the other gods as legal counselor and advisor, but also plots their destruction. In some tales, he is a Trickster hero who survives by his wits against physically stronger gods. There are lots of Trickster heroes. Look at Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, The Road Runner, and Speedy Gonzales.

If you’re interested in reading more about archetypes, any of Dr. Carol S. Pearson’s books are good primers.


Putting all this together, we bring our own selves to the literary table. That means our strengths, our hopes, our fears, our neurotic tendencies and our shadows. It’s a package deal. People used to spend years in therapy to develop a modicum of comfort with their shadow sides. Not so much anymore.

Think about your own story. We’re all heroes in that scenario. To the extent you can project the parts of yourself that you like and are comfortable with into a fictional tale, it will resonate for you. The characters will feel like old friends. On the flip side, stories that kick up your shadow side will tend to be uncomfortable. We all have a shadow side. It’s the things we stuff into a metaphorical sack and cart along behind us hoping no one will notice. Stephen King is a master at shining a light into shadow. He hits so many creepy crawlies in his voluminous tales that he probably doesn’t miss many of us.

How about all of you out there? What do you love to read about? How does it fit with your life story? What really creeps you out? Have you figured out why or do you just avoid things that churn up unpleasant feelings?

I’d love to dialog about anything in this article. You can contact me by writing to “Perihelion” Science Fiction. infinity

Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent, who lives in a very isolated area high in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. As a working psychologist, she’s been the administrator for publicly funded mental health and substance abuse programs for 25 years. She also taught at universities and at a family medicine residency training program. She has published three novels and over 20 stories.