Best of 2014: The SFF Critics Meta-List
“Best of 2014” posts are beginning to appear by SFF critics. These posts are a great deal more important for predicting the Hugos and the Nebulas than the Mainstream lists I’ve already collated. For whatever reason, these SFF posts tend to come out later in the year—it’ll be early January before a lot of major SFF websites and blogs get their “Best of 2014” up.
However, we’re up to 4 such lists already, and one of those, the Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice list, actually collects 11 different critics’ lists. So, when we collate those lists together, we’re already getting a dozen critical voices as to what the Best SFF novels of 2014 are. Without further ado, let me present the collated list. Rules are simple: you get 1 point for appearing on a list, and then the points get added up. Here’s every book that got at least 2 points:
1. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (4 points)
1. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (4 points)
3. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (3 points)
3. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (3 points)
5. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North (2 points)
5. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (2 points)
5. Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb (2 points)
And another 29 books appear only once. If you want the Excel file, here it is: Best of 2014; this list is located on the second page/tab at the bottom. The first worksheet is the Mainstream list. Note: I counted the Tor.com post as consisting of multiple lists; if you were picked by three critics on that list, you got three points.
We’re still early to draw definite conclusions, but this list is shockingly different than the Mainstream list. Mainstream darlings like The Bone Clocks and Station Eleven are nowhere to be found. An author like William Gibson, who is famous enough for The Peripheral to make many mainstream lists, only appears on one list so far. The Martian doesn’t grab the critical headlines like it does the popular headlines.
Instead, we have well-regarded but more “fantasy insider” books like City of Stairs and The Goblin Emperor. You really have to know the field pretty well to drill down to these books, and they are exactly the kind of books that the Nebula likes to honor. In fact, you could take the top 4 books off this list, add two random, lesser known SFF novels (the bottom of the Nebula slate is very unpredictable), and you’d likely have the 2015 Nebula slate.
This list currently collates lists from Tor.com Reviewers, A Dribble of Ink, and two SFF critics/authors. Adam Roberts, author of Yellow Blue Tibia and Bete offers a thoughtful and comprehensive “Best of SF 2014” at The Guardian. Jeff VanderMeer, himself a leading candidate for the 2015 Hugo and Nebula, offers a much more eclectic (and multi-year) list over at Electric Literature. VanderMeer largely avoids traditional SFF in his list, instead favoring on cross-genre and international literature.
Why these lists? Well, I’m looking for lists that represents the SFF critical world, including authors or critics that might actually vote in the Nebulas (SFWA members) or Hugos (WorldCon members). For this SFF Critics list, I’ve decided to collate the following: lists from major SFF blogs (defined by either popularity like Tor.com or by having been nominated for a Hugo best fanzine/best fan writer award) or lists from major SFF authors/critics. While there might be some argument in terms of who exactly I include, by collecting more and more lists that eccentricity should be diminished.
We’re going to need at least 10 lists before things settle down and we get a clear picture, but this is certainly an interesting start. I’ll be factoring this information in heavily when I update my Nebula prediction tomorrow.