Final Best of 2014 SFF Critics Meta-List

For this collated list, I’ve chosen 10 SFF websites, critics, magazines, etc., that are likely to be predictive of the 2015 Hugo and Nebula awards. This contrasts with my Best of 2014 Mainstream list, which included plenty of outlets that don’t know much about SFF.

I chose my lists using the following criteria:
1. According to my research, the list is by a major website that has been predictive of the Hugo and/or Nebula in the past. (Locus Magazine, io9, Tor.com).
2. The author of the list was a well-known SFF author writing for a publication (i.e. not their blog). (Jeff VanderMeer, Adam Roberts).
3. Lists by fanzines, fan writers, semi-prozines, or podcasts that have recently been nominated for the Hugo award. I figure if they’re that much part of the process, they’re likely to be influential/predictive. (Dribble of Ink, BookSmugglers, Strange Horizons, Coode Street Review, SF Signal).

Remember, the goal of Chaos Horizon is to predict who is most likely to win the Hugo and Nebula based on past voting patterns, not which novel should win the Hugo or Nebula. Don’t let my lists impact your vote: vote for the novels you think are most worthy of the awards.

Methodology: 1 point for showing up on a list. Since some of these lists are in themselves collations of multiple critics, I toyed around with a more complicated methodology: multiple points if there were more than 3 critics, etc. In the end, I was able to discard all of that: the order of the list didn’t change no matter how I counted. That let me go with the simplest methodology: 1 point for appearing on a list. Nice, clean, simple.

So who wins?

1. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie, 8 points
2. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer, 6 points
3. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison, 5 points
3. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman, 5 points
3. Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor, 5 points
3. Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear, 5 points
3. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell, 5 points
3. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine, 5 points
3. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, 5 points
10. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett, 4 points
10. All those Vanished Engines, Paul Park, 4 points
10. Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes, 4 points
10. The Martian, Andy Weir, 4 points
10. The Peripheral, William Gibson, 4 points
15. A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar, 3 points
15. Europe in Autumn, Dave Hutchinson, 3 points
15. Half a King, Joe Abercrombie, 3 points
15. My Real Children, Jo Walton, 3 points
15. The Bees, Laline Paull, 3 points
15. The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber, 3 points
15. The Causal Angel, Hannu Rajaniemi, 3 points
15. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Clair North, 3 points
15. The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne, 3 points
15. Tigerman, Nick Harkaway, 3 points
15. Wolves, Simon Ings, 3 points

Even though Ancillary Sword wasn’t as hyped or well-received as Ancillary Justice, the math really worked in Leckie’s favor. Leckie has a huge “incumbent” advantage; everyone wanted to see what she did next, and since Sword wasn’t a total let-down (many thought it was the better-written book, even if a less exciting and innovative than Justice), it made an impressive 80% of the lists. I expect Leckie to easily cruise to Hugo + Nebula nominations this year.

VanderMeer places a strong second. Some of those votes were for Annihilation alone, others for the whole Area X/Southern Reach trilogy. I think VanderMeer is a near certainty for a Nebula nomination at this point, and I’ve got him as the favorite to win (voters won’t want to give Leckie two awards in a row). I’ll be interested to see how the Nebulas and Hugos handle this nomination, whether for Annihilation or the whole series.

The Goblin Emperor dominated the fanzine/fan writer lists. I don’t know how much said lists will impact the Nebulas, but I can imagine Addison sneaking into that award. Depending on how crowded and contentious the Hugo becomes, she also has a solid shot there.

The list gets more complicated as you move down. The Magician’s Land and Steles of the Sky are the final volumes of well-received fantasy trilogies. In the past, both the Nebula and the Hugo have shied away from honoring books like this. It does make a certain amount of sense to honor a trilogy by nominating the final work. Will it happen this year?

Lagoon wasn’t published in the United States this year, which really complicates its award chances. The Nebula specifies US publication in its rules: “1. All works first published in English, in the United States, during the calendar year” but that’s tempered with “2. Works first published in English on the Internet or in electronic form during the calendar year shall be treated as though published in the United States.” Is a UK e-book “electronic form?” Or do they mean a form accessible to American readers? Rules technicality aside, the lack of US publication means that most US readers haven’t had a chance to read the book, and thus won’t vote for it. Except for years where the Hugo was in the UK, I don’t think we’ve ever had a non-US published book make the final slate. Can Okorafor defy the trend?

That takes us down to The Bone Clocks, Girls at the Kingfisher Club, The Three-Body Problem, and City of Stairs as the next most likely Nebula noms (the Hugo will push up fan favorites instead of these books). Are Mitchell and Valentine speculative enough for the SFWA? Can a Chinese author edge his way into an English-language award? The “A” at the end of SFWA stands for “America,” and SFWA members haven’t voted for foreign-language books in the past. That leaves City of Stairs as perhaps the most likely candidate from this part of the list.

Who’s missing? Station Eleven roared to prominence in the last few months, after many of these list were put together. Expect Mandel to make a strong showing as more and more people read her book.

Since this is the first year of Chaos Horizon, we don’t know how predictive this list will be. Once the slates came out, I can start further refining this process. It’ll be interesting to see, though, how much the top of this list matches the eventual Nebula slate.

Here’s the raw data. The critics list is under the second tab: Hugo Metrics.

Lists included: Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List 2014, BookSmugglers, Coode Street Podcast, io9, SF Signal, Strange Horizons, Jeff VanderMeer writing for Electric Literature, Adam Roberts writing for The Guardian, Tor.com, and a A Dribble of Ink.

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