One Star Awake

Return of the Unknown Soldier

Steven Cain

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-244-2, 336 pp., 6x9, paperback, $19.95

Love and lost love, and the one who must surely be still to come... The stars in Miranda Blake's sky were wheeling into a convergence that would make her question her years of comfortable spinsterdom, or so it seemed. Yet as her hormones dusted themselves off, and blip after blip began appearing on her male suitor radar, another force, a darker force, was rising in her psyche.

The nightly recurrence of her childhood Peter Pan dreams leads her to consult Cathy, a psychic and tarot reader. Coincidentally, Cathy was an Army Nurse in Vietnam in 1971, the year of Miranda's birth.

"Damn It" Jim McBain is a realtor who sells a house to Cathy's friend Anita. Through Anita, Jim meets Miranda in a gothic nightclub, The Katacoombs. There, amid the ghoulish gathering, Miranda's corporate ice queen persona finally begins to crumble. Later, as Cathy meets Jim's friend, Rod, a Battalion Surgeon in Vietnam, the stage is set.

As the awkward two-couple mating dances gain momentum, Miranda's dreams become more focused on the devilish Captain Hook. Hook leads her into the even more sinister Einstein on the Beach dreams, in which she sees a masked Vietnam-era soldier sitting in a deckchair. Behind him stands Albert Einstein. Above them, she can see the swirling image of the Southern Cross in a dark blue, painted Van Gogh sky. A constellation clearly visible in the night skies over Vietnam. A constellation famous for guiding lost travelers; perhaps even those lost in Time.

Then there is the enigmatic Vietnam Vet, Michael Underwood, one of Rod's former patients, who also disappeared from Cathy's Evacuation Hospital in 1971. Both Rod and Cathy recall him babbling deliriously about "the war that wasn't supposed to happen." When Underwood disappears again, he leaves Rod with an unusual gift; an old issue of LIFE magazine from 1965, featuring America's most famous Peter Pan, Mary Martin--in Vietnam.

The core temporal paradox that emerges seems to center around a young soldier who died in 1971 yet who is apparently still alive in present time. Or is he a ghost? As Captain Hook finally tells Miranda that she must unmask the soldier on The Beach, the scene is set for a heart-stopping revelation that will change their lives, and perhaps reality itself, forever.


Blue Dolphin does not publish many novels... but then we don't get reactions like this every day:

"Everyone who served in the bloodbath of Vietnam left part of his or her soul there, and many of these souls now wander the earth as restless spirits in search of peace, rest, and resolution. One Star Awake chronicles these wanderings and the successful journey home for some of them. In a tour de force of originality, power, creativity, understanding, and reverence for his subject, Steven Cain has crafted a mesmerizing novel about the experiences of nurses, surgeons, medics, and others in the killing fields of Vietnam and the decades following. It is quite unlikely that a more complex, appealing, sassy, intelligent cast of characters has been assembled in one volume in decades. This is a tale about the transformative power of compassion, and the ability of love to operate across the presumed barriers of space and time. 'I tell you:' Nietzsche said in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 'one must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.' Steven Cain understands the symmetry between chaos and order, and he has crafted a whopping novel in which the stars indeed dance. This novel should not be viewed as mere entertainment, although it is certainly that, but also as an urgent document, for more Vietnams are lurking." Larry Dossey, MD, author of The Power of Premonitions

"A Vietnam-themed literary novel of epic proportions, One Star Awake is a stunning combination of quantum reality theory and time paradoxes, woven craftily throughout a haunting love story fraught with synchronicities and flashbacks. Not a one-time read, you'll read this one again and again. First-time novelist Steven Cain's elegant wordsmithing abilities absolutely shine throughout. Nowhere, however, are they more sensitively displayed than in the extensively researched and detailed descriptions of daily life and death situations in the stark military hospitals of Nam, as shared by the surgeons and nurses who served in a war that should never have been." Helen Littrell, author of Raechel's Eyes

"Wow, what a ride. Steven Cain brings the war full circle for those of us who lived it. One Star Awake is a love story of time and place, and people forever caught up in 'the war that never should have happened.' I will always be grateful for this compelling, wildly entertaining and fascinating book. Thank you from the bottom of my worn-out and still-treasured combat boots." Lt Col Janis Nark, USAR (Ret.) Army Nurse Corps, Vietnam 1970-71

"A riveting read. One Star Awake is like a magical mirror into my soul and my past. Many of the references touched me and stirred all manner of memories from so long ago. Written with poetic and moving sensitivity, this is a fascinating, sometimes disturbing, look into the lives and souls of men and women caught up in a war in a 'faraway place' called Vietnam. For those of us still walking in the World, One Star Awake captures that ongoing struggle to remain sane. This is a compelling story I hope all my vet friends will want to read." Janet (Small) Woods, American Red Cross SRAO, 1st division Vietnam 1966-67, Survivor of Vietnam and the American mental health system

"Helena Blavatsky is my great, great, great, great, great, aunt, on my mother's side. However distant the connection, past life experiences are natural to me, along with the synchronicities of life, timeless love, miracles and familiarity. One Star Awake is a haunting reminder that we are with the people that we need to be with, and as in Jane Austen's Persuasion, timing is everything. In the big picture, what is meant to come into your life will not pass you by. Through time and space, in war and peace, love will find a way. It's that simple and that complicated. As with Steven Cain's characters, we must learn to trust in the perfection of the universe. May you dance with mirth at your own reunions." Valerie S. Paynter, writer, traveler, seeker, believer

Review from

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bizarre and Gripping Story - Unless You've Been There..., December 13, 2009
By Grady Harp (Los Angeles, CA United States)

Steven Cain may just well have written the most experimental novel of the year with his endlessly fascinating ONE STAR AWAKE. Though it is apparent from his choice of cover design, his subtitle 'Return of the Unknown Soldier', and the introductory pages of this book in which he pays homage to those who were involved with the Vietnam Experience, that this is on one level to be a story about the effects of that horrendous mistake of a war in a country where everyone suffered - the Vietnamese, the US citizenry, and the military personal who not only sustained corporal injuries, death, and mutilation, but also serious imprints on the psyches that will never heal. So yes, this is a story about war, about camaraderie among soldiers and caregivers, about life under the terrifying stress of incoming disaster, about that rarest of treasures we call compassion. But given this general topic, Steven Cain has created a tale that incorporates the mysteries of dreams, of the cycle of life that defies time divisions, and a series of transformative love stories as shared by a cast of characters that includes departed soldiers, fairy tale characters, psychics, and surreal encounters with both historic figures and fantasy creatures, and in this vast milieu emerges a tale of credible people, each in some way tainted, bruised, and yes, even enlightened by a war that should have never happened.

To dissect this novel further would be an injustice to the reader. Much of the joy of reading ONE STAR AWAKE is the manner in which Steven Cain uses his luxuriously poetic description of atmospheres to pull his amazing characters to life. His lead character Miranda, named for the character in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', has a mind influenced by near paranormal associations with the characters from 'Peter Pan', is someone the reader will never forget as Cain makes her our guide through experiencing the aftermath horrors of war while pulling together time lapsing memories to reconstruct and repair lost desire and love. There is a strong resemblance to the masters of surrealism in Cain's work and it all adds up to a novel that should be read by many. It is an amazing achievement. Grady Harp, December 09

Table of Contents

1. Long Winters Longer
2. Ribbons Undone
3. Astronomy Domine
4. Pharaoh Sails to Orion
5. No Earthly Ship
6. Fairytales of Slavery
7. To Kiss Her Shadow
8. This Night Wounds Time
9. The Bounds of Heaven
10. Over the Hills and Far Away
11. Waking the Witch
12. Gingerbread Coffin
13. A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
14. Second Stargate to the Right
15. The Other End of the Labyrinth
16. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers
17. Running Up That Hill
18. The Obsidian Mirror
19. Before a Thousand Moons
20. The Ninth Wave
21. The Boat of a Million Years
22. Be Glad, for the Song Has No Ending


"Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight." The childhood rhyme whirled around in Miranda's head as she abruptly surfaced, shedding the coils of sleep. As she opened her eyes, a cool gust of wind tinkled through the chimes in the apple tree that reached up from the moon-washed garden below. Nestling between its gnarled, silhouetted fingers, a solitary star hung in the New England night sky, peeping through the gap in her partly open sash window. There was no doubt about it, she reflected, the Peter Pan dreams had returned, with all their accompanying portents of death. At the very least, they foretold the imminent death of a loved one, but this time, she sensed an even darker dimension.

Miranda slipped from the bed and crossed to the window, which was gently rattling in the wuthering wind. As she prepared to close it against the early morning symphony of birdsong and distant traffic, a black Mercedes glided by like a stealthy panther in the street below. Across town, a handful of lights winked on in the harbor, as the new day slithered in. Not yet, she decided. She gratefully returned to the beckoning womb of her warm bed, and invited the dream world into her waking thoughts. Somewhere, a distant memory was clawing its way back from the vault of time to be reborn, raven-like, and tap-tap tapping out its presence.

The unearthly dreams had first come to her in childhood, before the death of her grandmother, and in adulthood, before the death of her close friend, Lynda. If they were again to be an omen of some kind, she coldly considered, the only variables would be whose death, and when.

Miranda drew her knees up and under her chin, as she turned her head slowly to look at the clock. It was 3:50. She knew it would be. It always was. Her mind ran rapidly over the figures. Three plus five is eight. Eight represents infinity, eternity, the ring of return, and in the Tarot, the upper and lower circles of the Wheels of Becoming. She could feel the hair rise on the back of her neck and a coldness move through her body. As she arched her head backwards to release a crick in her upper back, the stars looked down on her from the luminescent map of the known universe above her bed. Which, she wondered, was the second star to the right?

Looking back, it was a miracle that she had ever persevered with the Peter Pan story as a child. Her mother had given up on the book as a bedtime story, loudly citing Barrie's "pompous archaic verbosity," which would later be her reason for abandoning Alice in Wonderland, another of Miranda's childhood favorites. Ultimately, she would abandon Miranda herself.

Outwardly, the dreamscape of Never Land was as vivid and enchanting as it had been in childhood; the wind, the intense blue water, the calling gulls, the smell of the pine forest, and the crash of the cascading waterfalls. Whenever Captain Hook appeared, the dreams always changed into something else; something that puzzled her; still surreal, yet strangely more purposeful, as though he, rather than Pan, was the reason for her being there. For all his dark image, there was something almost reassuring about his presence.

Each time Hook flamboyantly opened his cabin door and emerged onto the deck of The Jolly Roger, Miranda caught the rush of a familiar smell. The first time, she had smelled orange spice cookies; the next evening, it had been lavender scent, and Pears soap. Even as a child, she had made the association with her grandmother, a cherished oasis of compassion in an emotionally bleak childhood. The repetition of the dream had bothered her incrementally, and one week after the dream cycle ended, her grandmother had died; an event that only reinforced the extent of her own mother's emotional shutdown. Ethel. Cold Ethel, as Miranda had secretly dubbed her. She had taken the nickname from the necrophilia-tinged Alice Cooper song, "Cold Ethyl"; about the lover he kept in the refrigerator, and her "skeleton kiss." The song suitably annoyed her mother, as most of her music was destined to do.

Miranda hadn't seen a developing pattern to the dreams until in her teens, when Alicia, her best friend, had drowned. Her drowning had been preceded by the dream smells of candied apples, the distinctive spearmint gum and seawater.

Before Lynda's death, only last year, there had been the smell of gloriously aromatic incense sticks, and that subtle, sense-teasing French fragrance that Lynda wore. She had recognized Lynda's presence immediately, sensing that Hook had somehow captured her, and was holding her in his cabin. She scarcely dared contemplate what that meant, or what it might mean if she herself entered the cabin. Again the dreams were to be darkly prophetic....

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2009

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