Wednesday, July 3, 2024

The Family Experiment

The Family Experiment by John Marrs
7/9/24; 384 pages
Hanover Square Press

The Family Experiment by John Marrs is a very highly recommended speculative thriller which melds the future of AI (artificial intelligence) into the realm of creating a virtual family for a reality TV show. This is a perfect pick for science fiction enthusiasts.

In a not too distant future the UK is under an economic crisis and a growing number of people can no longer afford to start families. However, with the burgeoning field of AI with a monthly subscription fee, people can create a virtual child who they can access via the metaverse and a VR headset. The company introducing this, Awakening Entertainment, has created an interactive reality TV show called "The Family Experiment" using their technological advances. 

In "The Family Experiment," which will stream 24/7, five couples and one single father will compete as they raise a virtual child from birth to the age of eighteen but in a condensed nine-month time period. There are monthly challenges and constant feedback from viewers via red or black hearts on the screen. The prize is the right to keep their virtual child or terminate it and use the prize money to start a family in the real world. Contestants include: Rufus Green and Kitty Carter; Dimitri and Zoe Taylor-Georgiou; Woody and Tina Finn; Cadman N’Yu and Gabriel Macmillan; Selena and Jaden Wilson; and Hudson Wright.

This is a brilliant, compelling, contemplative, twisty, and slightly terrifying (with the AI) thriller. I would say it is science fiction, but not with the current advances in artificial intelligence. It will hold your complete attention throughout. Readers will soon realize that someone seems to be interfering with the contestants and that there may be more behind Awakening Entertainment than great programming. One of the thought provoking questions raised, which seems simple, but could soon be timely, is: are the virtual children real?

Most of the characters are complicated and not likeable, but they are fully realized characters who have problems and secrets. It is easy to follow the plot and keep all the characters straight because they are all depicted as unique, intriguing individuals. As the narrative unfolds, many of their secrets are revealed along the way.

The final denouement is surprising and excellent in this fast paced cautionary tale. This is set in the same universe as Marrs' novel The One (2016), The Passengers (2019), and The Marriage Act (2023), however I feel like works well as a standalone novel too. Thanks to Hanover Square Press for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.


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