Some of John Marrs’ best books are clever thought experiments – science fiction-ish ‘what-ifs’ – and this book falls firmly into that category.

Here, a new reality show offers would-be parents a chance to look after their virtual child from birth in the metaverse, with the help of VR. To make the show work, the baby will grow at an accelerated rate, reaching 18 in nine months. At this point, viewers will choose a winner, who has the choice to keep their virtual child or get cold hard cash and fertility treatment instead. All other virtual children will be switched off forever.

So, of course, you do need to suspend belief if you want to get into the story. In the world as we know it, you’ve got to hope an ethics committee would stop this idea going anywhere at all. But The Family Experiment is set in the same universe as some other Marrs’ books, where the government is already obsessed with the idea of perfect marriages and finding The One. And we know reality shows are exploitative – it isn’t, in the end, that far-fetched at all.

At times I found the book hard-hitting at it delved into uncomfortable subjects. As someone who’s struggled with infertility in my past, it was quite tough reading about people having virtual babies dangled in front of them and making attachments, only to have them snatched away. But that’s sort of the point of any kind of science fiction – to ask ‘what would humanity do if it were faced with X situation’.

Make no mistake, this isn’t hard sci-fi. It’s fun, sometimes trashy, often thought-provoking, and a quick and entertaining read. If you like ‘what-if’-style thrillers, then this should be on your to-read list.