Young Adult Fiction and the Hugo and Nebula Awards: A Chaos Horizon Report

Over the past week or two, I’ve been asked several times about Young Adult fiction, and why Chaos Horizon doesn’t spent much time tracking that sub-genre of SFF. That’s an important and significant question, and I wanted to take a little bit of time to thoroughly address the issue. Over the past month, I’ve been studying the issue of Genre and the Hugo and Nebulas, and that (lengthy) report will be ready to launch next week. As part of that study, all the relevant YA data also fell out, so I’ll go ahead and present that information separately.

Let me make a couple introductory comments, and then I’ll launch into a multi-part report:

Part 1: Introductory Comments and Methodology
Part 2: The Hugo Awards and YA Fiction
Part 3: The Nebula Awards and YA Fiction
Part 4: Conclusions and Discussion

I’ll then follow that up with some analysis of 2014’s YA crop to see if any of those novels have a chance of making this year’s Hugo or Nebula slate.

Introductory Comments: Young Adult fiction has always been an essential part of the SFF scene, going back to The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia, to Heinlein’s juveniles, moving through important and genre-defining works like Earthsea or A Wrinkle and Time, and on to our present day YA dystopian boom. YA novels help to build new generations of SFF fans, and they provide a space for innovation and experimentation outside the pressures of being “adult fiction,” whatever that means. In our moment of 2014, YA novels are broadly read by both younger and adult readers, and their popularity often eclipses adult SFF novels.

Despite that importance, YA works have rarely been in the mix for the Hugo or Nebula awards. In this study, we’ll be looking to see how substantial that bias is, and I’ll discuss how this impacts the predictive work I do here. Remember, Chaos Horizon looks at what is “likely” to happen, not what “should” happen. The method of analysis (data-mining) I use reproduces past biases in future predictions, so if the Hugo and the Nebula have been biased against YA fiction in the past, Chaos Horizon will predict that bias as continuing into the future.

This is an obvious shortcoming of data analysis. When I started Chaos Horizon, I made a commitment to that shortcoming because I wanted to offer something other than “just” my opinion about the awards, which was very likely to be wrong. There are plenty of opinion-driven websites out there; I wanted Chaos Horizon to be data-driven, with all the possibilities and problems that brings. I’d never argue that data-driven is inherently superior to opinion-driven; they are simply different ways of looking at the same issue, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. As a community, I think we’re best off when we have the most information available to us, and I want Chaos Horizon to simply be part of the larger puzzle.

Any prediction or report that I produce should always be taken in the light of starting a discussion rather than finishing one. The unique value of this website lies in giving a statistical underpinning for Hugo/Nebula debates. By seeing the data, the patterns, and biases of the past, only then can we begin shaping the future. The Hugo and Nebula are both living awards, and there’s a rich discussion to be had about the possible inclusion of YA fiction in the Hugo and Nebula.

Methodology: For this study, I’ll be looking at the # of number of wins and nominations for YA novels in the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel categories from 2001-2014. I use that 2001 date because, for me at least, it marks the “modern” era of the Hugo and Nebula, inaugurated by J.K. Rowling’s win for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That win marks a substantive shift in the Hugo, opening up the award to fantasy and YA works.

How do we define Young Adult? That’s a tricky one, as Young Adult is often used as a marketing rather than a genre term. When faced with these kinds of difficult decisions, I try not to insert my opinion (who cares if I think Railsea is or isn’t YA?), but to find something more objective. In this case, I’ll looking at marketing and reader reception. If a book was labeled or marketed as YA, I’ll consider it YA, and I’ll be using Amazon to check that. Second, if a majority of readers considered the book YA, I’ll consider it YA. Since 2003, Locus Magazine provides an annual list of the Best SF, Fantasy, and YA SFF, voted on by a large number of readers. I figure if the Locus readers think something is YA, that’s what the larger SFF community is thinking. If you’ve got a more objective way to measure this, let me know.

So, get to thinking about Young Adult novels and the Hugo and Nebula awards. How biased do you think the Hugos and Nebulas have been in the past? Are they beginning to change? Have they already changed? Or has the introduction of the Andre Norton Award in 2005 moved YA novels out of Hugo and Nebula consideration? To what extend does a website like Chaos Horizon need to track YA fiction to make good Hugo and Nebula predictions?

I’ll be back tomorrow with data and charts, so stay tuned. Any preliminary questions, comments, or thoughts?

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