Archive | November 2014

More “Best of 2014” Lists: A fan list, Chicago Tribune, and the Barnes and Noble Holiday Guide

As we near the end of 2014, more and more “Best of” lists keep coming in. I’ve been collating these in my “Best of 2014” meta-lists found under “Metrics,” and I’ll try to update the list a couple times a month. Here’s what we have this week:, one of the biggest SFF sites, has posted an initial list of “Fan Favorites” that they’re calling the “A Non-Comprehensive-But-Awesome Accounting of Your Favorite Books of 2014”. This list is likely a strong indicator for the Hugo. Here’s the novels they have on the list (they also include non-fiction and collections):

Word of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson
My Real Children, Jo Walton
The Causal Angel, Hannu Rajaniemi
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear
He Drank, and Saw the Spider, Alex Bledsoe
Child of a Hidden Sea, A.M. Dellamonica
End of the Sentence, Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard
Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb
California Bones, Greg Van Eekhout
The Peripheral, William Gibson
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

A solid list, with most of my top Hugo contenders represented. The Martian isn’t up there, presumably because the book didn’t come out in 2014. Science fiction isn’t well represented, and neither Lock In nor Echopraxia make the list. Are we going to see a primarily fantasy slate for the 2015 Hugos?

The Chicago Tribune has their “Best of 2014” picks up. These are behind a pay-wall (you can register for 5 free views), so click at your own peril. They include a general “Best Books of 2014” and also a brief “Best Books for the Science Fiction” fan:

Mr. Mercedes and Revival, Stephen King, makes the main list
The Peripheral, William Gibson makes the SF list
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine makes the SF list

And that’s it. There are two collections on the SF list as well: The Year’s Best SF (real original, Tribune) and Monstrous Affections.

Lastly, Barnes and Noble has put up their “Holiday Gift Guide,” which operates as a de-facto Best of 2014 list. They are very mainstream and standard:

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson
Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
The Witch With No Name, Kim Harrison
Lock In, John Scalzi
The Broken Eye, Brent Weeks
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie
Fools Assassin, Robin Hobb
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
The Perihperal, William Gibson
The Girl With all the Gifts, M.R. Carey
The Martian, Andy Weir
Red Rising, Pierce Brown

Some more speculative books show up on the general fiction list:
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
California, Edan Lapucki

A good week for William Gibson: he showed up on all three lists. Is he beginning to pick up steam? For all his accomplishments as a SF writer, he’s only won one Hugo and one Nebula, both for Neuromancer thirty years ago. Is he due for another one? Lastly, has anyone read California? I’ve seen it pop up a few times this last week. Is it a viable Nebula/Hugo candidate?


2015 Hugo and Nebula Contenders: Goodreads and Amazon Reader Rankings

Since it’s obvious I like charts and graphs, and that I want to find more “objective” measures of what SFF books are actually being liked in 2014, here’s a table of Amazon and Goodreads reader ratings for the main 2015 Hugo and Nebula Contenders, as of the end of November 2014:

Table 1: Goodreads and Amazon Reader Ratings, November 2014

Goodreads and Amazon Ratings November 2014

I’ve always thought Goodreads ratings to be more reliable than Amazon’s, largely given the sample size. Goodreads usually has around 10 times more ratings than Amazon. Consider Words of Radiance: there are 36,000 Goodreads ratings versus 3,100 Amazon ratings.

I’ve never thought either rating is an accurate measure of the “quality” of a book. Everyone has a different scoring scale: some people hand out 5-star reviews like candy, others give a book a 1-star rating because they don’t like the cover. As such, I’d characterize these rating as a more nebulous measure of “satisfaction” than “quality,” which might not be particularly well correlated to Hugo or Nebula chances. People rate very personally, based on their unique likes or dislikes. Don’t expect the top-rated books to waltz off with the Hugo; this chart, like many of the other metrics, gives us only a piece of the Hugo and Nebula puzzle.

Sanderson and Correia do well because they deliver exactly what their fans want. Since their books are part of a series, everyone who hated the series stopped reading after Book #1, so all you have left are enthusiasts. Something like Annihilation, which takes several risks in both its storytelling and content, is more divisive amongst fans. I presume a lot of people bought the VanderMeer expecting one kind of book, and were confused or alienated or outraged by what VanderMeer actually did, thus the low scores. It’s interesting that three of the most “experimental” books—VanderMeer, Beukes, and Walton—scored the lowest. All of those also flirt with traditional genre-boundaries, something that the mainstream audiences tend to vote against.

Takeaways? Words of Radiance is amazingly well-liked. That 4.76 score is unprecedented, particularly given the 30,000+ rankings. I was only able to find one massively popular book on Goodreads that has done better, and that’s The Complete Calvin and Hobbes with a 4.80 rating. Sanderson beats out all comparable authors: Martin, Rowling, Jordan, Gaiman, etc. Hell, even Return of the King can only scrape up a 4.48 rating. If the Hugo wasn’t substantially biased against both epic fantasy and book #2 of a series, you’d have to consider Sanderson a major contender. I currently don’t even have Sanderson predicted for a nomination, but those metrics are impressive. I think Sanderson has the popularity—if not the critical respect—to win a Hugo, but to do so, the conversation around the Hugo would need to change. Since those conversations are evolving, particularly given the campaigning that has gone on the last few years, it’s something that might happen. Would anyone have predicted a nomination for The Wheel of Time this time last year? A similar campaign for Sanderson could get him into the slate, and if he’s on the slate, anything can happen.

Correia, Weir, and Bennett all perform very well. Bennett’s 4.24 for the experimental The City of Stairs is outstanding, and I think further boosts his chances of scoring both Nebula and Hugo nods. A lot of writers fall into an average score of around 4.0, which neither helps nor hurts them very much.

It’s interesting that a book I have at the top of my predictions, Annihilation, is dead last in this measure. Remember, though, you don’t have to be universally liked to get award. Instead, you need a small percentage of SFF fans (10% to make the slate, around 30% to win) who absolutely adore your book. I think VanderMeer has that core of enthusiasts, even if some other readers are more hesitant about his book.

So, what do you think reader ratings can tell us? Are there any other books I should add to the list?

Best of 2014: Mainstream Meta-List

I hope everyone survived the Thanksgiving holiday! In my quest to find more metrics to help us better understand and predict the Hugo and Nebula awards, I’m putting together a “Best Of 2014” meta-list, which simply collates the various “Best of 2014” posts. So far, 6 such post have appeared, all from mainstream outlets. The rules are simple: you get 1 point for appearing on one of the lists. Add them all up, and here are the 20 books that have at least two votes:

5 votes:
The Martian, Andy Weir

4 votes:
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyemi
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

3 votes:
Lock In, John Scalzi
On Such a Full Sea, Chang-Rae Lee
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
The Peripheral, William Gibson
Tigerman, Nick Harkaway

2 votes:
A Darkling Sea, James Cambias
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie
The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness
The Broken Eye, Brent Weeks
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson

The “Best Of” lists used are Amazon, Goodreads (I need to update as soon as the final lists come out), Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews.

So, what does this tell us? This list is a consensus of what the mainstream thinks are the best SFF novels of 2014, nothing more, nothing less. While this is likely not predictive of the 2015 Hugos and Nebulas—the mainstream is very different than SFF fans or writers—this list is important because it sells books. Think of the massive reach of Amazon or Goodreads. Without readers, you can’t win a Hugo or Nebula. I worry for the authors that haven’t made the list so far: that includes such major candidates as Ann Leckie, Peter Watts, and Kameron Hurley. Lesser selling authors, in particular, need a boost from these lists. Not making a mainstream list doesn’t doom you, particularly for the Nebula, but it says something about the reach of that novel.

Some conclusions: The Martian is crazy popular (which we already know). Annihilation and The Bone Clocks are doing very well. Boy, Snow, Bird, a realistic novel that draws on Snow White, has gotten a lot of mainstream attention, but is it speculative enough for a Nebula nomination? I haven’t taken Harkaway seriously as a contender, but if he keeps showing up on year-end lists, I probably should. Lastly, mainstream outlets don’t really understand science fiction or fantasy. Of the top 11, the books that received at least 3 votes, almost half have a “literary fiction” feel: The Bone Clocks, Boy, Snow, Bird, Station Eleven, Tigerman, and On Such a Full Sea. Those are the books embraced by the mainstream, and they tend to slight or ignore more obviously speculative works.

I think once SFF websites and blogs start rolling our their “Best of 2014” lists we’ll have an even better idea of what’ll make the Hugo and Nebula slates. Still, we can’t ignore the pressure of the mainstream on the SFF world.

Kirkus Review’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2014

Kirkus Revies has put up their “Best of 2014” lists. Here’s the Science Fiction and Fantasy list, in alphabetical order:

Bear, Elizabeth. Steles of the Sky.
Graedon, Alena. The Word Exchange.
Gregory, Daryl. Afterparty.
Grossman, Lev. The Magician’s Land.
McIntosh, Will. The Defenders.
Moon, Elizabeth. Crown of Renewal.
Morden, Simon. Arcanum.
Scalzi, John. Lock In.
Stross, Charles. The Rhesus Chart.
VanderMeer, Jeff. Annihilation.
Weir, Andy. The Martian.

A fairly interesting list. While they played it safe with some of this year’s heavy hitters (Grossman, Scalzi, Stross VanderMeer, Weir), it was good to see some lesser known books like the Bear and McIntosh. I’m a big Gregory fan, although I found Afterparty a little disappointing. I’d recommend We Are All Completely Fine for Best Novella consideration. No Ancillary Sword or City of Stairs on the list, which is a little surprising. Still, Kirkus is a very mainstream site, and, as such, they tend to reward mainstream texts.

They do have one oddity: a “Best 2014 Fiction with a Touch of Magic” list. For fans of magic realism and slipstream writing who are afraid of fantasy? Here’s that list:

Galchen, Rivka. American Innovations.
Millet, Lydia. Mermaids in Paradise.
Malerman, Josh. Bird Box.
Mitchell, David. The Bone Clocks.
Smith, Ali. How to Be Both.
French, Tana. The Secret Place.
Buekes, Lauren. Broken Monsters.
Darnielle, John. Wolf in White Van.

Make of that what you will. Bird Box seems pretty interesting, and Mitchell and Beukes are obvious Nebula/Hugo contenders.

Lastly, there are a couple of other borderline SFF novels mixed into the Top 100 Best Fiction Books of 2014. All the books above also appeared on the top 100 list, but we can add:

Elliott, Julia. The Wilds.
Harkaway, Nick. Tigerman.
King, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes.
Kowal, Mary Robinette. Valour and Vanity. (Why isn’t this on the SFF list?)
Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven.
Oyeyemi, Helen. Boy, Snow, Bird.

All told, that means 25 out of the top 100 books at least had some trace of speculative elements. That’s pretty friendly to the SFF world for a mainstream list.

These lists are coming fast and furious now. Any surprises?

Washington Post’s Best Books of 2014

The Washington Post has gotten into the year-end “Best Of” act. For their top 5 Science Fiction/Fantasy novels of 2014, they have:

The Angel of Losses, Stephanie Feldman
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie

Like most mainstream outlets, that’s an interesting take on the year in SFF. You’ve got three authors—Feldman, North, and Valentine—that blur genre boundaries, one SF debut, and one fantasy novel. By edging away from works that are too overtly speculative, outlets like The Washington Post re-enforce the literary/genre split that is so prevalent today. Why have a dedicated Science Fiction/Fantasy list if you’re going to fill it with literary fiction? On a more positive note, Cambias is getting some good attention at the end of the year, and I’m going to have add him to my Hugo prediction. I haven’t read The Darkling Sea yet, but this is one of the reason I run Chaos Horizon, to help me find cool books that might have slipped under my radar.

A few other speculative novels show up on their other lists, including “The Ten Best Books of 2014” and “The Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014.”

Station Eleven made the main list of the “Ten Best” list, further solidifying Mandel’s position as the literary SFF darling of the year.

Other SFF Books on the Top 50 list:
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
J by Howard Jacobson
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Tigerman by Nick Harkaway
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Nice to see Gibson joining a range of more literary SFF novels. Fowler’s book was published way back in May of 2013, so I don’t know why it’s on a 2014 list. Fowler already scored a Nebula nom for her book last year, meaning that the Post can predict the Nebulas after they happen. Way to go! Fowler was up for the Booker this year (due to a later British publication date), so someone likely looked at the Booker list and assumed the book came out in 2014. Good to know even a major newspaper makes mistakes.

You might also want to include Revival by Stephen King, depending on how flexible your notion of SFF is. There’s also an interesting novel called Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell, which is about Shirley Jackson—not sure it would count as horror, but it sounds like a cool book.

Mainstream lists like this tell us relatively little about who is going to win the Hugo or Nebula award. The totality of these lists, though, frame the conversation that is going to happen over the next five or six months about the best SFF novels of the year, so they’re definitely worth keeping track of. I think mainstream reception, oddly enough, impacts the Nebula more than it does the Hugo; maybe writers are more swayed by the “lure” of literary fame than fans. Station Eleven has been so ubiquitous in the mainstream press that it is likely picking up votes.

This brings us up to 5 “year-end” lists already; I’m going to put up a collation of all these lists soon, so we can see who is leading the mainstream “year-end” race. Once the major SFF outlets start putting their lists up—and those lists matter a great deal more for predicting the Hugos and Nebulas—I’ll do the same with them.

2014 National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award was given last night, and here’s a link to the winners. Phil Klay won the fiction category for his Afghanistan story collection Deployment.

From a SFF perspective, the National Book Award did a couple interesting things this year. First, they gave a lifetime achievement award to Ursula K. Le Guin for her distinguished contribution to American letters. At the ceremony, she gave a defense of speculative fiction. Here’s an NPR article on that, including a video of her speech.

Second, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was on the short list for the fiction award. The National Book Award has, in the past, generally ignored speculative fiction of all stripes, so it’s interesting to see the award loosening genre restrictions. Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel has attracted a lot of attention from the literary mainstream, even being crowned Amazon “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy” novel of the year. Mandel’s novel has not gotten much attention from the SFF community, and has little Nebula or Hugo buzz. This highlights the increasing split between “literary” SFF and “genre” SFF: some speculative books all the rage in literary circles (Station Eleven, The Book of Strange New Things) have no impact in genre circles. That’s an odd phenomena of the SFF scene in 2014, and one that I don’t quite know how to process.

Can Mandel can work her way into Nebula contention? Continued honors like these are going to draw more attention and more readers to her book, and more readers definitely increase your award chances. We’ve seen “literary” SFF novels pop up in the Nebulas in recent years, including Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni just last year, so I think there’s a definite chance she could sneak in. We’ll have to wait and see.

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem Review Round-Up

In many ways, Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem was the most important SF novel published in English in 2014. Already a best-seller in China, The Three-Body Problem deals with the Cultural Revolution, the meaning of scientific knowledge, and the transforming/disruptive power of alien contact. On it’s surface, this is a book about Chinese scientists grappling with first contact, as they attempt to communicate with an advanced alien civilization and to prepare Earth for the coming of those aliens. More profoundly, it is a book about disruption (the third-body of the title), and how seemingly stable systems (East/West, science/faith, etc.) fall apart in the face of increased complexity.

Like the third-bodies of his title, Liu provides a powerful alternative to models of SF (and thought) currently popular in the United States and the United Kingdom. The American-British science fiction scene has been remarkably insular over the past few decades, largely ignoring what’s going on in SF in the rest of the world. While a few Japanese SF writers are beginning to creep in, largely via the Haikasorou imprint, The Three-Body Problem was published by Tor (one of the premier SFF presses), translated by a rising SFF star in Ken Liu, and had the kind of marketing push that only a major publisher can provide. As such, Liu has more of a chance of making an impact on the current SF scene.

The Three-Body Problem is probably too strange and too unusual to factor into the 2015 Hugo and Nebula awards, both of which have scrupulously avoided foreign-language authors over the past several decades. At some point, the American-British focus of those awards is going to snap, but I doubt it’s this year. The Three Body-Problem is also a difficult book, asking readers to leap from the Cultural Revolution to the political meaning of the Copenhagen interpretation, from nanomaterials to a video game, from first contact to political revolutions. Figures from Chinese history jostle against Western scientists like Newton and Einstein. While I enjoyed the demands this book placed on the reader, and found the flow of ideas fascinating, I can also understand how this might be off-putting to a casual or crossover science fiction fan. Liu is not particularly interested in characters or plot in a more conventional sense, and someone looking for those narrative aspects is likely to be disappointed by The Three-Body Problem.

Lastly, Liu freely moves from realism to allegory in ways that likely challenge his reading audience. While some of the scientific sections are sound, others are deliberately exaggerated. Near the end, there’s a bravura sequence where an alien civilization “unravels” a proton from 11 dimensions to 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, and then inscribes some sort of computer on that seemingly miniscule space. It’s one of the most fascinating pieces of bullshit I’ve read in years, but it is bullshit nonetheless. This is SF that isn’t afraid to break from realism, and I think Liu uses that break from reality to profound effect. While this echoes some of what Haruki Murakami is doing with his work in Japan, it’s a new concept for American and British SF writers, and I imagine it will take years for us to fully process how Liu is changing the rules of SF. I suspect the second part of this trilogy–coming out next year–will help us make more sense of this challenging work.

So, since Chaos Horizon is an awards website dedicated to predicting the Hugo and Nebula award, what are Liu’s chances? None? There’s no precedent in recent Hugo or Nebula history for a foreign-language book to break into those awards, no matter how deserving. Hopefully The Three-Body Problem will starts discussions about that insularity, but discussions aren’t enough to grab nominations. I think this was an important book—in fact, it’s been my favorite SF book of 2014, and probably the most interesting SF novel of the last 4 or 5 years—but that’s not necessarily reflected in the awards. The Hugo and Nebula provide a fascinating mix of the popular, the important, and the familiar, and The Three-Body Problem would need a huge push from the SF press to get into awards convention. Given some of the reviews linked below, it doesn’t quite look like it’s catching on. We’ll see.

Three-Body Problem

First published in English on November 11, 2014.

Originally published in Chinese in 2008.

About the Book:
Article by Cixin Liu on The Three-Body Problem
Goodreads page
Amazon page

Mainstream Reviews:
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
NY Times (not a review, but an article on Cixin Liu and Chinese SF)
A.V. Club (C)

An interesting mix of positive and negative. Three Body-Problem has gotten a good (not great) amount of coverage, but some of it has expressed reservations concerning Liu’s use of characters. Throw in a measured review at (I don’t formally list because I’m suspicious of Tor reviewing books it publishes), and we’re seeing a solid—but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic—mainstream reception.

WordPress Blog Reviewers:
Bree’s Book Blog (4 out of 5)
Bibliotropic (5 out of 5)
Mountain was Here
Intellectus Speculativus
The Dinglehopper
Violin in a Void (7 out of 10)
Michael Patrick Hicks
Avid Reviews (9 out of 10)

In general, a positive set of reviews, speaking highly of Cixin Liu’s mind-boggling ideas, with some reservations expressed due to lack of characterization and the complexity of some of the physics. I’d say that WordPress bloggers have actually done a better job of “getting” and “understanding” the novel than the mainstream reviewers have. Cixin Liu’s strengths as a writer make up for any weakness he might have in terms of structure, particularly if you allow yourself to be open to an entirely different model of SF.

2015 Nebula Prediction, Version 2.0

It’s the 15th of the month, so time to update my Nebula Award for Best Novel prediction! Last year, the slate was announced on February 25th, so we’re just 3 months away from learning the nominees.

So what’s changed since my last prediction? We’ve gotten to see how various novels have performed with reviewers, fans, and in terms of popularity. As websites begin to publish their year-end lists, a narrative has begun to emerge for 2014, with books like City of Stairs and The Goblin Emperor getting lots of positive buzz. These books join more obvious candidates like Annihilation and Ancillary Sword.

I’ve also done a couple of Reports that have allowed me to better understand past patterns of the Nebula, particularly how the Nebula Best Novel category tends to nominate 50% previous nominees and 50% rookie nominees. This boosts the odds of someone like Katherine Addison or Robert Jackson Bennett, both looking to earn their first nomination.

Despite this information, the Nebulas are much harder to predict than the Hugos. The Nebulas involve a smaller group of voters (SFWA members, many of whom don’t seem to vote), publish less data (it keeps the vote totals secret), and tends to nominate obscure books (Nagata and Gannon last year, for instance). The Nebula is also a more “writerly” award; some of the popular authors in the Hugo—Scalzi or Stross—have never done well in the Nebulas. It’s harder to predict what writers are going to like than fans, given that fans tend be more vocal about their likes and dislikes.

Disclaimer: As always, Chaos Horizon predicts what is likely to happen in the Nebula awards, not what “should” happen. By data-mining past awards, I try to discover patterns to base my predictions on. This is an imperfect science—the past is not a 100% predictor of the future, otherwise we’d know everything that would happen—so take the list as no more than a rough guide.

Annihilation Ancillary Sword The Bone Clocks City of Stairs Coming Home Mirror Empire My Real Children Goblin Emperor

Tier I: Likely to be Nominated
The leading candidates, based on critical reception and past Nebula performance.

1. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: I’ve moved VanderMeer above Leckie based on two things: the Nebula’s past reluctance to award the Nebula to the same author two years in a row, and the sheer popularity of Annihilation amongst critics and readers. VanderMeer scored a Nebula nomination back in 2010 for Finch, and this has been the best reviewed and received novel of his career. I think Annihilation, the first volume of his three part Area X (all published in 2014), is the most likely to get nominated. This is the shortest, most accessible, most read, and most interesting part of the trilogy, although I wouldn’t be stunned to see all of Area X on the slate.
2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: Ancillary Sword hasn’t kicked up the same enthusiasm as Ancillary Justice, but it’s still been well-reviewed and received. Expect a nomination but not a win.

Tier II: A Strong Chance
I told you the Nebula is hard to predict. Beyond Leckie and VanderMeer, I’m not sure anyone is “likely” to make the final slate, but a wide range of authors have good chances. Remember, the Nebula has been roughly 50% repeat nominees, 50% newcomers; if this year follows that trend, that would be good for Bennett and Addison.

3. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: Mitchell has a 2005 Nebula nom for the well liked Cloud Atlas, and this was the biggest “literary” SFF novel of the year. Huge sales, tons of mainstream coverage, with a “love it or hate it” kind of reaction by readers. I worry this isn’t speculative enough for the SFWA voters, and the length (600+ pages) is likely a problem. Everything else in the Top 10 is under 450 pages, with many of the books around 300 pages.
4. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett: This dark, stand-alone fantasy about dead gods and a mysterious city seems tailor-made for the Nebulas: while fantasy series do poorly, stand alone fantasy novels have done better. This book has a similar to feel to some of Gaiman and Mieville, which bodes well for his Nebula chances. Bennett is also picking up steam as the year goes along; he may be peaking at just the right time.
5. Coming Home, Jack McDevitt: 11 prior Nebula noms for best novel (!), but no 2013 or 2014 nom; still, you can’t count McDevitt out. We’re also light on major SF candidates this year, and that might allow McDevitt to sneak back in.
6. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley: 2012 Nebula nom, start of a well-received new fantasy series. Also the best cover of the year, if that helps.
7. My Real Children, Jo Walton: 2012 Nebula winner, 2012 Hugo winner, less SFF than her other works, although the Nebulas cares less about that than the Hugos.
8. The Martian, Andy Weir: This was the biggest debut SF novel of 2014, although eligibility issues—the book was originally self-published in 2012—are likely to prevent a nomination. It is also less “writerly”—and more action driven—than what the Nebula tends to nominate.
9. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison: Well received fantasy novel, offering an alternative to the dominant “grimdark” model currently so popular. Pen-name of Sarah Monette. After Bennett, the most buzzed about possible “newcomer” to the Nebula slate.
10. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: Another literary SF novel, this time with a post-apocalyptic twist. This has gotten lots of mainstream coverage—it was named by Amazon the best SFF novel of 2014. One of last year’s big “literary” SFF novels, The Golem and the Jinni scored a Nebula nom, so this has a chance.

Tier III: In the Mix
11. The Peripheral, William Gibson: Gibson hasn’t been in the Nebula mix for more than a twenty years, but this is a return to more traditional SF. The top part of this prediction is too light on SF for the Nebula, so Gibson might get a SF “boost” into the slate.
12. Echopraxia, Peter Watts: Watts doesn’t have much past success in the Nebulas (no nominations ever), but this was one of the more highly anticipated SF books of 2014.
13. Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal: 2011 Nebula nom, 2013 Nebula nom for prior books in this series.
14. Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress: 5 prior Nebula wins, including 2013 Nebula novella; 2 prior Nebula best novel noms.
15. The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne: High concept debut novel, good buzz.
16. Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes: Beukes has almost scored Hugo noms in the past, but she hasn’t done as well in the Nebulas. High quality speculative/detective hybrid.
17. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu: Major English-language debut by one of China’s most popular SF writers; translated by Nebula winner Ken Liu; foreign language books have historically done terribly at the Nebulas.
18. Literary Fiction interlopers: A large number of books from the literary world have used speculative elements this year, and the Nebula has, in the past, been somewhat receptive. This long list includes Strange Bodies by Marcel Thereoux, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, J by Harold Jacobson (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, The Bees by Laline Paull, and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. If one of these books gets nominated, it would be similar to The Golem and the Jinni’s nomination from 2014.
19. The Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor: 2011 Nebula nom, but this novel only came out in UK this year; no US release yet dooms her chances.
20. Mainstream SFF writers: A lot of the biggest-sellers of SFF are missing from the above list: Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, James S.A. Corey, John Scalzi, Mira Grant, Charles Stross, Joe Abercrombie, Lev Grossman, Deborah Harkness, Diana Gabaldon, I could go on and on. These kind of massively popular books have never done very well at the Nebula awards, particularly if they are part of a series. I don’t expect that to be different this year, but you never know.

That’s quite a list—a pretty busy year in science fiction and fantasy. Who’s on your list for the 2015 Nebulas? Who deserves to be here that’s not?

Amazon Announces Man in the High Castle Television Pilot

This one was too weird to pass up: Amazon has announced they’re adapting Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle for their upcoming pilot season:

Based on Philip K. Dick’s Hugo-award-winning tale of the same name, the Ridley Scott-produced spy drama The Man in the High Castle takes on the alternative timeline of what would have happened if the Allied Powers lost World War II. The hour-long pilot will take place 20 years after the war and will have the world split between the two Axis Powers, Japan and Germany, and will star Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank, Rupert Evans, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Joel De La Fuente, Rufus Sewell, and DJ Qualls. David Semel will direct the pilot with a script written by Frank Spotnitz. Scott will executive produce alongside David W. Zucker, Jordan Sheehan, Stewart Mackinnon, Christian Baute, Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan, and Christopher Tricarico.

What’s with the mad rush to get SF television shows on the air? We’ve heard in the past year alone announcement/development deals for The Expanse, Redshirts, Foundation, Lock In, Ancillary Justice and more. After years of essentially ignoring science fiction, networks now can’t get enough. I fear, though, this is just a matter of Hollywood following the herd. One network announces a new SF series, and everyone has to rush to get their own just in case these are successful. Expect a lot of these shows to never make it to air, and, if they do, to get cancelled quickly.

Still, it’s an interesting time for SF fans. I can’t imagine The Man in the High Castle as a successful series: the whole Nazi’s win WWII is pretty intense for television, and it’s not like Dick’s works are known for their easily-accessible plots. I’m also not sure how you extended a 300 page book into an opened-ended series. I just hope this entire crop of new SF shows doesn’t crash and burn, which would hurt the SF television market for years.

Andy Weir’s The Martian Review Round-Up

The Martian was the runaway science fiction success story of 2014. Weir’s book began life as a self-published book (way back in 2012) and eventually rose to national and international stardom. It’s even being fast-tracked for a November 2015 movie: Ridely Scott directing, Matt Damon staring. Take that, Interstellar! If The Martian is eligible for the 2015 Hugo Award, it’s likely to be a major contender—but the eligibility questions are serious and substantial. I’ve addressed those in my Andy Weir’s Eligibility Post; I want to write about the novel in this post, and not get caught up in the “will it or won’t it be eligible” questions here.

The Martian is a fast-paced SF thriller about astronaut Mark Watney. Through Mark’s journals, we learn how he’s been left for dead on Mars, and how he has to utilize all his engineering and botany skills to survive in that harsh landscape. Chock-full of rich engineering detail (turning rocket fuel into water, growing potatoes, maintaining his Mars habitat, etc.), The Martian zips through Mark’s survival and NASA’s attempts to rescue him. Weir delivers a well-detailed and well-imagined Mars with lots of plausible detail. Engaging and very accessible, it’s easy to see why The Martian was a bestseller; it’s somewhat reminiscent of the movie Gravity, and totally out of step with almost everything else that’s being published in SF today.

The Martian feels like a throwback to old-school “engineering solves problems” SF: as challenges come up, our hero uses SCIENCE to solve them. There’s a golden-age style optimism of the ability of scientific knowledge and human ingenuity to overcome the most hostile landscapes. I found The Martian reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic A Fall of Moondust, although Weir isn’t as interested in character development as Clarke. That’s probably the major flaw of the book: Mark starts and ends the novel the same person, and none of the secondary characters are fleshed out in any substantial way. Still, if you’re looking for a quick and exciting SF adventure uncluttered by deeper philosophical concerns, The Martian is perfect for you.

I hope that doesn’t sound disparaging of The Martian, because it wasn’t meant to be. Weir is writing a different kind of SF novel; while an author like Ann Leckie is drawing on the complex, densely structured futures of Iain M. Banks, Weir is focused primarily on action and plot. I think the indie roots of The Martian are clearly visible here: it’s not trying to be “important” or “significant” in the way of some other SFF writers, but instead trying to be entertaining and accessible. While that can be wearing at times—Weir overuses exclamation points, for instance, and the sheer number of engineering crises Watney survives is improbable—it is also refreshingly different.

The Martian brings up all sorts of interesting questions about what exactly science fiction can and should be. I think there’s plenty of space in the SF landscape for novels like this, but it’s telling that this didn’t find a mainstream publisher until after it was successful on Amazon. The Hugo and Nebula awards have yet to come to terms with the indie publishing scene. Readers seem to be happier with The Martian and Wool than with Echopraxia or Ancillary Sword, and I imagine this will be a major issue of contention in the coming decade.

I have The Martian fourth on my current Hugo Prediction, but crossed out due to eligibility issues. This is the kind of novel that was so widely read that it would have a great chance of a nomination; even if it’s not people’s first choice, it was probably memorable enough to make a lot of ballots, particularly if you’re a fan of Hard SF. Weir is showing up on most Year-End Lists, and he’s supremely popular on places like Goodreads. Except him to be an essential part of this year’s conversation despite eligibility issues.

The Martian
Originally indie-published in 2012.
Hardcover released February 11, 2014

About the Book:
Andy Weir’s web page
Andy Weir’s Facebook (where he seems to be the most active blogging)
Amazon page
Goodreads page

Mainstream Reviews:
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred review)
Kirkus Reviews
Entertainment Weekly
A.V. Club (A)
Wall Street Journal
USA Today (3 out of 4)

The Martian was broadly and positively reviewed when it came out, with plenty of follow-up articles on Andy Weir’s self-publication journey after it became a bestseller. In terms of mainstream publicity, Weir certainly outstripped any other SF release of 2014.

WordPress Blog Reveiwers:
Book Reviews Forevermore (4 out of 5)
Rachel Robie
Attack of the Books
Rhapsody in Books (4 out of 5)
Overflowing Heart Reviews
Violin in a Void (7 out of 10)
Drunken Dragon Reviews
(4 out of 5)
Ristea’s Reads (5 out of 5)
BiblioSanctum (4.5 out of 5)
and on . . . and on . . .

I could have put up a ton more reviews, but this is a good representative sampling. The Martian was widely and positively received by WordPress bloggers, and, since the hardcover has been out since February (with the paperback out in November), there’s been plenty of time for people to read. Once again, if we go on sheer popularity alone, The Martian will be on a lot of ballots.

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