Book Reviews

A Cry in the Desert by Jed A. Bryan at ReQueered Tales

Genre Gay / Historical / Post-Apocalyptic / Recent (1980s) / Fiction
Reviewed by ParisDude on 09-July-2020

Book Blurb

A story of the battle against tyranny that remains as relevant now as when it was written.

A group of friends living in Las Vegas are happy and successful: doctors, lawyers, journalists, and decorators. However, their lives go from utopian to dystopian when a law passes to allow the quarantine of those suspected to have AIDS. The government, in a blatant overreach, closes the Nevada border. Those tagged as homosexuals disappear in the middle of the night. Spurred on, former Public Defender wunderkind Larry Armstrong and his lover Dr. Carl Woodsford fight Dr. Alfred Botts, a brilliant strategist who creates a concentration camp in the middle of the Nevada desert where, once behind the tall walls, people are never seen again. They fight him in the halls of hospitals and in the halls of justice but are constantly outmaneuvered by others in high places that are loyal to Botts or being blackmailed into supporting him. As more and more of their friends are snatched in the night, their fight must go underground if they have any hope to stop Botts!

Originally published in 1987, this dystopian tale returns for the first time in a generation. This new edition contains a 2020 foreword by the author.


Book Review

Ever since being introduced to Orwell and Huxley as a teenager, I’ve been an avid reader of dystopian novels, discovering over the years a wide array of authors and books, some excellent, others less. I guess what makes me choose this kind of literature again and again is the wish to be frightened, to be shocked, to confront my inherently optimistic and positive nature with tales of mankind at its most opposite from the vision I have of my fellow humans. It’s as if I wanted to comfort myself with the fictionalized proof that the everyday baseness, greed, egoism, and outright stupidity I encounter is nothing compared to what could be. I recognize a good dystopian book by the hypnotizing way in which it draws me in and grabs my attention from the start, the way it chills me and makes me want to scream in revolt, the way it describes persons and situations uncompromisingly and with almost depressing accuracy. If I catch myself musing that the things depicted could really happen that way, I’m won over.


That is what occurred immediately after my opening ‘A Cry in the Desert’, which I would rate amongst the very best I’ve been allowed to read so far. The story starts in the early eighties and is set in Nevada, mainly in Las Vegas and near Alamo. Larry Armstrong is a man of the law who has specialized in defending the most vulnerable. His promising career has ground to a temporary stop with his wife discovering him in a compromising situation with another man. Luckily he can count on the support of a little group of gay friends, amongst them Dr. Carl Woodsworth, an internist at a local hospital who has recently started to treat the first AIDS patients and has quickly become rather renowned in that field. What nobody knows is that one man, Dr. Alfred Botts, who is working for the local branch of the CDC, is about to launch a crusade against gays and lesbians, making them the scapegoats of an artificially created full-scale AIDS panic. If everything goes as planned, he will succeed in playing straights against gays, the “moral” majority against “unnecessary” perverts, and the state legislature will sanction his building a so-called research facility where he claims to try to treat possible AIDS victims. In fact, Botts’s hidden agenda is quite different from what he advertises. His research facility turns out to be but an “improved” concentration camp where a vast amount of research is done on dispensable live “human cattle”.


The plot unravels slowly, showing the full extent of Bott’s machiavellic project, which is clearly based on Hitler’s political advice to increase the pressure in barely perceptible incremental steps until the majority of people has got used to the fact that their freedom has been curtailed and a hated minority has been designated, oppressed, and finally stripped of their status as human beings. It is done expertly in this book, with chilling hints right from the start that made me turn the pages with bated breath. Several secondary characters and their stories are woven in, followed up, and brutally ended at one moment.


To my relief, I found no scenes of graphic violence but certain passages where the allusions and clues were sufficient to make my mind do it all by itself (invent and imagine violent events, that is). Yes, I admit, ‘A Cry in the Desert’ is no easy read; it is certainly not some pink-colored, rose-scented, and light romance with a dystopian twist. Where there is romance—the two main characters do end up becoming lovers—the romantic aspect is used skilfully to add to the overall suspense.


This is a book where the reader should be prepared to be shocked, to sometimes feel as if someone had kicked them in their stomachs. Pure, fact-based, horrifying dystopian excellence where I really couldn’t help but think over and over again, “No! No that! Don’t go there!”, knowing fully well that every new horror, every new twist and turn was logical, unavoidable, as if fated. The author explores with almost cruel, but necessary relentlessness the heartless, utilitarian path the human mind so often chooses to go, for the sake of progress and science. He shows how ruthless strategists can easily exploit divisions between different human groups to achieve their goal, how even the victims can be coaxed into voluntarily running to their doom while the silent majority looks the other way.


I admit that I haven’t been moved so much by a book for a very long time. Moved, shocked, and forced to ponder how stupid and maybe even dangerous my optimism might be. The things described in this book could really happen. Even today, in our so-called civilized world. The novel is a plea, no, it’s an urging command to never take our victories over obscurantism and base instincts for granted. Man is indeed a wolf to man; it is essential to never forget it.





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Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 385 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 30-June-2020
Price $5.95 ebook, $5.00 paperback
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