11 contestants, 9 months to win the perfect child: The Family Experiment by John Marrs #bookreview #TheFamilyExperiment

The world’s population is soaring, creating overcrowded cities and an economic crisis. And in the UK, breaking point has arrived. A growing number of people can no longer afford to start families let alone raise them.
But for those desperate to experience parenthood, there is an alternative. For a monthly subscription fee, clients can create a virtual child from scratch who they can access via the metaverse and a VR headset. To launch this new initiative, the company behind Virtual Children has created a reality tv show. It will follow ten couples as they raise a Virtual Child from birth to the age of eighteen but in a condensed nine-month time period. The prize: the right to keep their virtual child or risk it all for the chance of a real baby . . .
Set in the same universe as John Marrs’s bestselling novel The One and The Marriage Act, The Family Experiment is a dark and twisted thriller about the ultimate ‘tamagotchi’ – a virtual baby.

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Hi and welcome to my review of The Family Experiment!

I’m a massive John Marrs fan in general, but most of all, I love his series (and I use that term very loosely) set in a not that far off future. I use the term “series” because these books are all set in the same future and they reference each other, in The Family Experiment for instance, the DNA matching technology from The One is mentioned, there’s a character we met in The Passengers, and the act from The Marriage Act is referred to. Still, these are all standalones and although I would strongly advise you to read the whole bunch because they are all fantastic, you need not have read any of the others to feel right at home with The Family Experiment.

I love all sorts of thrillers but I will admit (and have admitted many times before) to a certain weakness for thrillers with futuristic tech / dystopian angle. In The Family Experiment, that angle is AI babies. As in babies who do not exist in real life, only in the Metaverse. By wearing the necessary equipment, real people can parent such a virtual child, live with them in a virtual world and experience all the things parents with flesh and blood children do. But can you love a virtual child like you would a real one? Can they love you? Do they even have feelings? Do they have a soul? To call it thought-provoking would be an understatement.

Besides that fascinating technological story element, The Family Experiment also has the typical thriller elements that somehow never get old. Basically all the candidates who are competing in the family experiment reality TV show are carefully guarding their secrets in real life. A weird but very intriguing origin story, a secret in the attic and one in the basement, and quite a few other ones that were never meant to come out, including a really sordid one I did not see coming at all. And one person who knows them all, and for reasons of their own, wants them all out in the open.

I had the absolute best time with The Family Experiment. My expectations were sky-high but they were met without a doubt. The Family Experiment is an absorbing, thought-provoking tech thriller I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. 

The Family Experiment is out in digital formats, audio and hardcover on 9 May, with the paperback to follow next year.

Massive thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the DRC. All opinions are my own.

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