2015 Hugo Prediction, Version 3.0

Where did November go? Between the Thanksgiving holiday and wrapping up my classes for this semester, it’s blurred by. But it’s December 1st, so time to update my 2015 Hugo Prediction.

Reminder: Chaos Horizon is dedicated to predicting what is likely to happen in the 2015 awards, not what “should” happen. So, long story short, I’m not advocating any of these books for the Hugo, but simply predicting, based on past Hugo patterns, who is most likely to get a nomination. I’ve based these on the various Reports I’ve done, the Review Round-Ups of individual texts, and my tracking of various Hugo Metrics.

Changes: I moved VanderMeer to #1. Why? Well, the most basic reason is I raised him to the top of my Nebula prediction. Since 2000, the Nebulas and the Hugos have begun to converge. In those 15 years, 7 of the Best Novel Nebula winners have gone on to win the Hugo. That’s roughly 50%—great odds for any gambler. The odds are actually even better, because the Nebula winner doesn’t always make the Hugo ballot. When the Nebula winner has been on the Hugo ballot, it’s gone on to win 6 out of the last 7 times, for an eye-popping 86%. Redshirts over 2132 is the only recent example of the Nebula winner getting upset. Since the basic premise of Chaos Horizon is to do something other than just give my (often wrong) opinion, this is as a good a logic as I can find. While statistics can mislead and fail, I hope to at least provide something different than everything else out there. If you’re dissatisfied with a predicted VanderMeer sweep, remember that it’s still early (December, and the Hugo won’t be given until next Summer), and a lot may change.

Additionally, VanderMeer has done well with critics, is popping up on most year-end lists, and has solid popularity metrics. I also feel Annihilation stands well on its own, as a brief horror-SF novel, and you don’t need to read the less successful Authority and Acceptance to get the full effect. Others might disagree, and feel that Annihilation isn’t a stand-alone book, and we’ll get to see how that plays out over the next few month.

I think voters will be reluctant to give Leckie back to back Hugos, and Ancillary Sword hasn’t made the same waves as Ancillary Justice. The most popular SF book of the year, The Martian, isn’t likely to be eligible; the most popular fantasy book of the year, Words of Radiance, is the second in a series (those don’t get nominated unless the first was also nominated). This makes VanderMeer the most likely candidate almost by default; what else is there in 2014 that has the mix of popularity, critical sentiment, and genre demographics to make it a prime candidate? While there’s still time for a book like City of Stairs to catch fire, it needs to start catching soon.

The other changes are more modest. I’ve moved Echopraxia and The Mirror Empire down based on their popularity, or lack thereof. While both novels were well-received by critics, they’re simply not doing as well in the marketplace as other books. On its most basic level, the Hugo is a popularity contest, and you need to be popular to win. This leaves a SF hole near the top, and Gibson—who is making a ton of year-end lists—seems the most logical to slide into that spot. I still have him outside the Hugo slate, but there are a ton of SF only Hugo voters that might push Gibson up. Bennett also moves up as the most like fantasy Hugo newcomer. I’ve also added Cambias and A Darkling Sea to the list as perhaps the most heralded SF debut of the year. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven also debuts at #15.

December should be a big month for the Hugo picture, as more and more year-end lists come up. Pay careful attention to the lists produced by SFF websites, as they are usually good indicators for the Hugo and Nebula. Mainstream lists like Amazon or Publisher’s Weekly are too outside of SFF fandom to be of much help in the prediction.

The current prediction:

Annihilation Ancillary Sword 9780765375865_p0_v1_s260x420 Monster Hunter Nemesis

City of Stairs Words of Radiance Goblin Emperor Mirror Empire

Tier I: Likely to be Nominated
This tier is full of strong contenders, based on previous Hugo Best Novel performance, reviews, genre, and popularity.

1. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: Beginning of his Southern Reach trilogy, all published this year. Popular, well-reviewed and well-liked. More people read and liked this short first volume than finished the series, so I think it’s Annihilation and not the whole Southern Reach that ends up nominated. Since I have this on top of my Nebula prediction, it needs to be on top of my Hugo prediction as well.
2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: The sequel to the 2014 Hugo and Nebula winning Ancillary Justice has been well-reviewed and received, but will fans want to give the award to Leckie twice in a row?
3. The Martian, Andy Weir: The bestselling SF novel of 2014, but I don’t think it will be eligible. See my post on the issue. This book is just so enormously popular it’s bound to receive lots of votes, eligible or not.
3. Lock In, John Scalzi: The 2013 Best Novel Hugo winner, and Lock In has been quite popular. Scalzi has tons of prior noms, and the past is a great indicator of the future.
4. Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia : 2014 Hugo Best Novel nominee, placed 6th in 2013, and a prominent Hugo campaigner.
5. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett: The book I feel most uncertain about predicting a Hugo nomination. Very well-reviewed and well-liked fantasy novel, benefits from being a stand-alone book. Has shades of Mieville and Gaiman, both of whom have done very well. But have enough people read it for this to be a likely nomination?

Tier II: A Fighting Chance
These authors will need some help to make into the slate: strong placement on year-end lists, a big sales push during the Holiday season, a Nebula nomination (which helps your Hugo chances greatly), or some sort of formal or informal campaign. I’d note that some of these books might well be “better” than the books above them, but we’re discussing Hugo chances here, not which books are actually best.

6. Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson : Nominated with Robert Jordan for Wheel of Time in 2014; first book in this series (The Way of Kings) placed 11th in 2011; staggeringly popular. If the Hugo wasn’t biased against epic Fantasy, this would be a shoo-in.
7. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison: The other fast rising fantasy candidate, a popular fantasy novel. Strong reviews and well liked. Is there enough space for multiple fantasy novels on the Hugo slate, though, or can only one of Bennett/Hurley/Addison make the field? Could Sanderson crush them all?
8. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley : 2014 Best Fan Writer Hugo winner, 2014 Best Related Work Hugo winner, 2012 Nebula novel nominee, first novel in an ambitious new series. Proved divisive amongst reviewers, and popularity isn’t as strong as other contenders.
9. William Gibson, The Peripheral: Gibson hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo since 1998, but there’s a lack of obvious SF candidates. Critics have been enthusiastic about Gibson’s return to “true” SF, so this is garnering a lot of attention.
10. My Real Children, Jo Walton: 2012 Hugo winner, lower on list because of a lack of strong SFF element.
11. Symbiont, Mira Grant: Nominated for four Hugos in a row from 2011-2014, although she barely made the field last year; published very late in year (November) for a Hugo contender.
12. Echopraxia, Peter Watts : First novel since his 2007 Best Novel Hugo nomination for the highly regarded Blindsight. If The Martian is ineligible, Watts seems to be the next most-logical SF novel to slide into its place. However, this doesn’t seem to be as popular as I expected.
13. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: Surprisingly popular literary novel; contains some speculative elements (war with strange psychic entities), but those are late in the book. More of a Nebula than Hugo nominee.
14. Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes : Beukes placed 7th in the 2014 Hugos, 11th in 2012, but this is more crime and less speculative than the excellent The Shining Girls.
15. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: The literary post-apocalyptic darling of 2014, this has been burning up the sales charts recently. Doesn’t seem like a Hugo book to me, but the sheer market saturation is likely to yield Mandel some votes.
16. Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey: 2012 Hugo nominee, 8th in 2013, 14th in 2014.

Tier III: Long Shots
These authors could have an argument made for them, but would need quite a bit to happen to make it into the slate.

17. The Rhesus Chart, Charles Stross: 2014 Hugo nominee, 2014 Novella Hugo winner, last novel in this series (Apocalypse Codex, from the Laundry novels) didn’t place in top 15.
18. Elizabeth Bear, The Eternal Range trilogy: With Jordan getting nominated last year, there have been some rumblings about nominating Bear’s well-reviewed fantasy trilogy. That’s going to take a lot of effort to happen, particularly if you take a look at the popularity indicators for Bear (number of ratings on Goodreads, for instance: the last volume has a mere 269 ratings as of November 1, 2014). Not enough readers = not much of a chance.
19. Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal: 2014 Hugo Novelette winner, 2011 Hugo Short Story winner, placed 8th in 2011, 10th in 2012 for Best Novel.
20. A Darkling Sea, James Cambias: SF debut novel that has gotten some strong critical attention.
21. Mainstream Fantasy Novels: There are plenty of mainstream fantasy writers that don’t stand much of a chance, despite their books being well liked. Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, etc. The Hugo has never been very hospitable to novels in Epic fantasy series. Vote for Sanderson if you want a book like this on the slate.
22. The Space Epics: Same thing with these. Books like Peter F. Hamilton’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams, Alastair Reynold’s On The Steel Breeze, may seem like possible candidates, but they haven’t done well in recent years. Throw Greg Bear in here as well.
23. Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem: A high profile release by China’s most popular SF author, but foreign-language texts have done terribly in the Hugos.
24. The Chaplain’s War, Brad Torgersen: First novel, 2014 Hugo Novelette and Short Story nominee, 2012 Hugo and Nebula Novelette nominee, didn’t grab much attention when released. Could be part of a future “Sad Puppy” campaign by Correia.
25. The Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor: No 2014 US release for this book dooms any chances.
26. The Girl with All the Gifts, M.S. Carey: Popular zombie book, would need tons of support to make the slate.

So, what do you think? Who is the frontrunner in December?

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