The Hugo is all about the book that’s most popular—so we have to find good indicators that reflect popularity. Unfortunately, winning a Hugo greatly increases the popularity of a book, so it’s hard to go back in time and find out how popular the book was before it won the award.
Right now, we can establish some more speculative indicators, based on Amazon ratings, and see if these become more reliable over time. The more people have reviewed a book, the more people have read it, thus more people can vote for it in the Hugo. Seems pretty straight-forward. There’s not much history here, so this category will be weighted relatively lightly.
This leaves us with:
Indicator #6: Novel was the most reviewed on Amazon.com at the time of the Hugo nomination. (75%)
So how about this year?
Wheel of Time 3,124 reviews
Ancillary Justice 232 reviews
Parasite 160 reviews
Neptune’s Brood 110 reviews
Warbound 109 reviews
This order echoes the Goodreads vote, except Correia and Stross swapped position (by one vote, though). Once again, this shows the huge advantage Jordan has in terms of sales in relation to the rest of the nominees.
For the next part of our model, and just like the Nebula model, we’ll move on from awards history to critical and reader response.
Unlike the Nebula, critical response isn’t that important. Fans vote for the novels they like, not the most “esteemed” novels. There will be some critical response worked into same-year awards performance, but for Indicators #4 and #4 we’ll focus in on reader votes.
There are two reliable reader votes currently taking place: the Locus Awards and the Goodreads Choice Awards. The Locus Awards is the more established of the two. The readers of Locus Magazine vote in a variety of major categories (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, First Novel). The statistics are pretty good here: 57.1% of the time, the eventual Hugo winner won one of the major categories. Often, both the first place Fantasy novel and the first place Science Fiction novel make the final slate, so you have a face off amongst different categories winners.
The Goodreads Choice Awards, voted on by the readers at the Goodreads website, hasn’t been around as long, and it isn’t showing the same reliability statistically. My hope is that as time passes, this becomes a more reliable Indicator. As of now, 33% of the time the book that received the most votes wins the Hugo, but that only gives us 3 years of data. As a consequence, this Indicator will be lightly weighted in the final rankings.
That leaves us with:
Indicator #4: The nominated novel wins one of the main Locus Awards categories. (57.1%)
Indicator #5: The nominated novel receives the most votes in the Goodreads Awards. (33%)
Where are we at this year? Well, the Locus Awards are usually given in late June. Finalists have been announced, and this years nominees haven’t done too well. Only Neptune’s Brood is a finalist for best SF novel and Ancillary Justice was nominated for First Novel.
The Goodreads vote has been held, and here’s how our novels fared. I counted the votes of A Memory of Light, the last volume of The Wheel of Time), for Jordan/Sanderson.
Wheel of Time 28,470 votes
Ancillary Justice 3,815 votes
Parasite 3,431 votes
Warbound 1,509 votes
Neptune’s Brood 1,144 votes
This is the first category where the popularity of Wheel of Time shines through. The gap between A Memory of Light and Ancillary Justice is enormous, and may factor into the final Hugo vote.
While the Nebula award showed a clear bias towards science fiction novels, the Hugo actually shows the opposite. While almost 70% of the nominees are science fiction novels, fantasy novels win 50% of the time. While 50% may not seem like much of a statistical advantage, it’s the 70%/30% nominee split that gives fantasy novels a statistical boost.
On a practical level, this makes sense: there are dedicated fantasy and science fiction blocks within the Hugo voters. Few readers are equally passionate about both genres, and since the fantasy nominee pool is smaller, fantasy voters tend to boost those nominees.
So, this works out to:
Indicator #3: Nominated novel is in the fantasy genre. (50%)
3 of this years nominees are best described as science fiction: Ancillary Justice, Parasite, and Neptune’s Children. Warbound looks like a detective/fantasy hybrid, leaving Jordan’s and Sanderson’s The Wheel of Time as the go to choice for fantasy readers.
Like the Nebula Award prediction model, the Hugo Award prediction uses date from previous Hugo winners and nominees from 2000 to find mathematical trends. Most of this data is mined from the excellent Science Fiction Awards Database, as well as other sources like Amazon and Goodreads.
Much like the Nebula, the Hugo Award shows a bias towards previous awards winners, although this bias is much less pronounced than the Nebula. While the Nebula constantly goes to past winners and the most honored nominees, the Hugo is a very different award. Past winners don’t show any statistical advantage, nor does a handful of prior nominations seem to help much. Charles Stross, for instance, has been nominated for 7 best novel Hugos (and 15 total Hugos, with 2 wins for short fiction), and has never won for best novel. The Hugos, unlike the Nebulas, are also not prone to giving lifetime achievement awards (well, unless Jordan gets one this year). Past winners of the Hugo award are just as often passed over as not.
What does seem statistically valid, though, is being known in the field. The Hugo rarely goes to a brand new nominee, with this only happening in 3 of the previous 13 years for both the Hugo and the Nebula. Note: this does not factor in a same year Nebula nomination or win; that’ll be factored in later. So this leads to our first two indicators:
Indicator #1: Nominee has previously been nominated for a Hugo award. (78.6%)
Indicator #2: Nominee has previously been nominated for a Nebula award (prior to this year). (78.6%)
So how do this year’s nominees fare?
As you can see, this isn’t a group that has received a lot of prior awards consideration. Leckie’s profile has certainly improved in the last 6 months, winning a Nebula this year. That’s going to give her a huge boost in a later indicator. Jordan’s lack of award nominations may be surprising, and this says something negative about the support for Jordan’s work in the Hugo/Nebula realm. Given this indicator alone, Stross would leap to the front, although these two Indicators are going to be given relatively little weight in the final formula.
The finalists for the 2014 Campbell Award have been announced:
The Adjacent, Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The Circle, Dave Eggers (Knopf)
The Cusanus Game, Wolfgang Jeschke (Tor)
The Disestablishment of Paradise, Phillip Mann (Gollancz)
Evening’s Empires, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lexicon, Max Barry (Penguin)
Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace)
On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)
Proxima, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press)
Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood/Penguin)
A Campbell nomination is a solid predictor for the Hugo Award (and would be for the Nebula, but the nominations are given afterwards). Two Hugo nominees received Campbell nominations: Ann Leckie and Charles Stross.
It’s an odd list—Shaman doesn’t come out until September of 2014, so I don’t know why it’s eligible, and a book like The Circle, while good (about a crazed Google-like company) is only vaguely SF.
Ann Leckie was announced as the winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Since Leckie was the winner picked by my prediction model, this means success for Chaos Horizon.
Leckie won the model not because of her award history—she has none—but because of the strong critical/reader reception of the book, and, most significantly, because of her dominant awards season performance. This year’s modeling shows how important things like Hugo nominations and other awards are for determining the winner.
Stay tuned for my upcoming Hugo prediction.
So, now that Leckie’s Ancillary Justice has emerged as our pick, how did we get here?
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice: 25.8% chance of winning the 2014 Nebula
What It Is: A sprawling space-opera novel about a sentient spaceship confronting past intergalactic wrongs. With flourishes of Ian M. Banks’ Culture series and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish cycle, Leckie’s first novel introduced us to a complex future, including a provocative take on gender, and heralded the arrival of a promising new author.
Why She’ll Win: Leckie did poorly in the first part of the prediction model, which is based on an author’s previous awards history. She did well on the second part, which charts critical and reader response. Leckie, in particular, was a critical darling. Lastly, Leckie absolutely dominated the third part of the formula, which measures this season’s award performance. Leckie racked up five major SFF award nominations (Hugo, Clarke, Dick, Tiptree, BSFA), and won the Clarke and the BSFA. No one else in this year’s Nebula pool came close. It is this awards season dominance that boosted her past Gaiman, whose well-liked Ocean has received little awards chatter. Leckie is also the most viable SF novel of this year’s nominees, and the Nebula still slants in the SF direction.
Why She Might Not Win: Will Nebula voters reward a first novel? Did Leckie only begin to pick up steam this awards season after the Nebula votes were due? Will voters retreat to the safer, more well-known Gaiman? It wouldn’t be a surprise if Leckie lost—the Nebula does not usually reward first novels, although it has done so recently with Bacigalupi. While Ancillary Justice is ambitious, it is also clearly a first novel: Leckie is working out her writing style, and there are portions that are less clear/engaging than they could have been.
Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the of the Lane: 20.7% chance
What It Is: A brief fantasy/horror novel about a child encountering an extra-dimensional evil.
Why It Might Win: Gaiman was leading the prediction model until the very end, and very well might have stayed ahead of Leckie if he had received a Hugo nomination. Gaiman has the best awards history of this bunch, with plenty of Nebula and Hugo wins. Ocean was well received by critics and readers alike, winning things such as the Goodreads vote. Tons of people read Ocean, which means tons of potential voters. Gaiman fell apart, though, in the last third of the model, failing to attract much awards attention this season. Part of that is that fantasy nominations come out later, but the crushing blow was Gaiman’s lack of a Hugo nomination. This indicates a substantial weakness of voter feeling for his book, and sprang Leckie to the top. However, if Nebula readers are looking for a safe pick, this is it, and is probably the “I’m voting quickly and haven’t read all these novels” vote of choice. You can never count out a multiple Nebula winner.
Why It Won’t Win: Gaiman’s novel is popular, accessible, interesting, and well-written. It’s also brief (under 200 pages) and it doesn’t represent Gaiman’s best work. In fact, Gaiman has already mined this territory (child confronting evil) in the better-liked Coraline. Nebula voters might feel that Gaiman doesn’t deserve yet another award for his “smallest” novel. They may choose to reward Leckie’s ambitious risks over Gaiman’s safe choices. A lot of this circles back to the lack of a Hugo nomination: if Ocean were considered worthy of an award, why didn’t it get nominated there? Ocean may be fading from the popular imagination even as Ancillary Justice is rising.
Nicola Griffith’s Hild: 11.2%, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni: 10.6%, and Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: 9.8%
What They Are: A historical novel about St. Hilda of Whitby, a historical magic realist novel about a Golem and Djinni immigrating to America, and a realistic novel about a family adopting a chimp.
Why They’ll Win: It’s easy to cluster these books together because they are all literary fiction novels that dip their toes into the waters of SFF fantasy. All are complex, beautifully written, and moving books. In fact, if you’re looking solely at the “quality” of the book, as disconnected from whether or not the book is actually SFF, these would be strong contenders. Fowler even won the PEN/Faulkner award. If voters are tired of traditional Science Fiction and Fantasy, these are their options—books that expand our sense of genre by challenging the very concept of what a SFF book can be. Furthermore, Fowler and Griffith boast a strong profile in the field, and could easily receive a “life-time achievement” vote.
Why They Won’t Win: Because they aren’t SFF novels. While genre-policing is a rather fruitless endeavor, some voters are doubtless going to find these books too far outside the traditions of SFF to merit a vote. Even more problematic, though, is that since these three novels are somewhat similar in profile, they’ll split votes between them. If Fowler’s novel was the only borderline SFF novel in the pool, it might stand a strong chance of winning, but I believe voters looking for experimental fiction will split their votes between Fowler, Griffith, and Wecker, leaving none of these three with much chance to win.
Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light: 8.2%, Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria: 7.7%, and Charles Gannon’s Fire with Fire: 6.0%
Why They’ll Win: They won’t. These are our “happy to be nominated” group, although we should keep in mind that once during the past 15 years (when Asaro’s The Quantum Rose won), we’ve had a total Nebula surprise. Maybe it’ll be this year?
Why They Won’t Win: These novels aren’t well known, didn’t attract wide-spread critical and reader acclaim, and didn’t perform well this awards season. There is nothing in the current profile of these author’s to indicate that their novels are “big” enough to win the award.
I personally see this as a two-horse race between Leckie and Gaiman. If convention rules, Gaiman wins. If voters want to award the next big thing, Leckie wins. The results are going to tell us something about the current make-up of the Nebula voters, and what exactly they’re looking for in the field of SFF fantasy.
Here we go, with the final prediction for the 2014 Nebula. Award to be given 5/18/14:
1. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (25.8%)
2. Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (20.7%)
3. Nicola Griffith, Hild (11.2%)
4. Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni (10.6%)
5. Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (9.8%)
6. Linda Nagata, The Red: First Light (8.2%)
7. Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria (7.7%)
8. Charles E. Gannon, Fire with Fire (6.0%)
Leckie makes a late (spectacular!) run to overcome Gaiman. Leckie’s final numbers have been greatly boosted by her award season performance. She was the only Nebula nominee this year to also score a Hugo nomination, and she also won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association award (in a tie). Factor in nominations for the Philip K. Dick and the Tiptree, and Leckie put up one of the most impressive award season performances in recent SF history.
Will Leckie actually win? It’s looking more and more likely. Despite the impressive history of Gaiman, and the fact that Ocean at the End of the Lane is well liked, my impression is that people think Ocean is a “small” book, a lesser Gaiman novel. In contrast, Ancillary Justice is a “big” book, and Nebula voters tend to reward ambition. If Leckie wins, she’ll be following a similar pattern to Bacigalupi’s winning The Windup Girl, where a SF writer, although new, swept their way to the award based on the impressive scope of their first novel. In some ways, voters might be awarding promise over execution, although most critical voices have been enthusiastic about Ancillary Justice, even if not all readers have been swayed.
I’ll be back soon with a little bit of analysis as to what possible results on 5/18 mean for the Prediction Model.
This makes Ancillary Justice the most honored book of the season, and, combined with nominations for the Hugo, Philip K. Dick, and Tiptree awards, this is going to push Leckie past Gaiman in the final 2014 Nebula prediction. No other 2014 Nebula Nomination has come even close to being as honored as Leckie, and since the Nebula voters have strong overlap with these other award voters, this means Leckie is in prime position to take home the 2014 Nebula.