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.

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