2015 Nebula Prediction: Final Results
Here we go . . . the official Chaos Horizon Nebula prediction for 2015!
Disclaimer: Chaos Horizon uses data-mining techniques to try and predict the Hugo and Nebula awards. While the model is explained in depth (this is a good post to start with) on my site, the basics are that I look for past patterns in the awards and then use those to predict future behavior.
Chaos Horizon predictions are not based on my personal readings or opinions of the books. There are flaws with this model, as there are with any model. Data-mining will miss sudden changes in the field, and it does not do a good job of taking into account the passion of individual readers. So take Chaos Horizon lightly, as an interesting mathematical perspective on the awards, and supplement my analysis with the many other discussions available on the web.
Lastly, Chaos Horizon predicts who is most likely to win based on past awards, not who “should” win in a more general sense.
1. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword: 19.4%
2. Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor: 19.2%
3. Cixin Liu and Ken Liu (translator), The Three-Body Problem: 17.7%
4. Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation: 16.8%
5. Jack McDevitt, Coming Home: 16.5%
6. Charles Gannon, Trial by Fire: 10.4%
The margin is incredibly small this year, indicating a very close race. Last year, Leckie had an impressive 5% lead on Gaiman and an impressive 14% lead over third place Hild in the model. This year, Leckie has a scant .2% lead on Addison, and the top 5 candidates are all within a few percentage points of each other. I think that’s an accurate assessment of this year’s Nebula: there is no breakaway winner. You’ve got a very close race that’s going to come down to just a few voters. A lot of this is going to swing on whether or not voters want to give Leckie a second award in two years, or whether they prefer fantasy to science fiction (Addison would win in that case), or how receptive they are to Chinese-language science-fiction, or of they see Annihilation as SF and complete enough to win, etc.
Let’s break-down each of these by author, to see the strengths and weaknesses of their candidacy.
Ancillary Sword: Leckie’s sequel to her Hugo and Nebula winning Ancillary Justice avoided the sophomore jinx. While perhaps less inventive and exciting than Ancillary Justice, many reviewers and commenters noted that it was a better overall novel, with stronger characterization and writing. Ancillary Sword showed up on almost every year-end list and has already received the British Science Fiction Award. This candidacy is complicated, though, by the rareness of winning back-to-back Nebulas. She would join Samuel R. Delany, Frederik Pohl, and Orson Scott Card as the only back-to-back winners. Given how early Leckie is in her career (this is only her second novel), are SFWA voters ready to make that leap? Leckie also is competing against 4 other SF novels: it’s possible she could split the vote with someone like Cixin Liu, leaving the road open for Addison to win.
Still, Leckie is the safe choice this year. Due to all the attention and praise heaped on Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword was widely read and reviewed. More readers = more voters, even in the small pool of SFWA authors. People that are only now getting to The Three-Body Problem may have read Ancillary Sword months ago. I don’t think you can overlook the impact of this year’s Hugo controversy on the Nebulas: SFWA authors are just as involved in all those discussions, and giving Leckie two awards in a row may seem like a safe and stable choice amidst all the internet furor. If Ancillary Justice was a consensus choice last year, Ancillary Sword might be the compromise choice this year.
The Goblin Emperor: My model likes Addison’s novel because it’s the only fantasy novel in the bunch. If there is even a small pool of SFWA voters (5% or so) who only vote for fantasy, Addison has a real shot here. The Goblin Emperor also has had a great year: solid placement on year-end lists, a Hugo nomination, and very enthusiastic fan-reception. Of the six Nebula nominees this year, it’s the most different in terms of its approach to genre (along with Annihilation, I guess), giving a very non-standard take on the fantasy novel. The Nebula has liked those kinds of experiments recently. The more you think about it, the more you can talk yourself into an Addison win.
The Three-Body Problem: The wild-card of the bunch, and the one my model has the hardest time dealing with. This come out very late in the year—November—and that prevented it from making as many year-end lists as other books. Secondly, how are SFWA voters going to treat a Chinese-language novel? Do they stress the in A (America) in SFWA? Or do they embrace SF as a world genre? The Nebula Best Novel has never gone to a foreign-language novel before. Will it start now?
Lastly, do SFWA voters treat the novel as co-authored by Ken Liu (he translated the book), who is well known and well liked by the SFWA audience? Ken Liu is actually up for a Nebula this year in the Novella category for “The Regular.” I ended up (for the purposes of the model) treating Cixin Liu’s novel as co-authored by Ken Liu. Since Ken Liu was out promoting the novel heavily, Cixin Liu didn’t get the reception of a new author. I think many readers came into The Three-Body Problem because of Ken Liu’s reputation. If I hadn’t done that, this novel drops 1% point in the prediction, from 3rd to 5th place.
The Three Body-Problem hasn’t always received the best reviews. Check this fairly tepid take on the novel published this week by Strange Horizons. Liu is writing in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and other early SF writers, where character is not the emphasis in the book. If you’re expecting to deeply engaged by the characters of The Three Body-Problem, you won’t like the novel. Given that the Nebula has been leaning literary over the past few years, does that doom its chances? Or will the inventive world-building and crazy science of the book push it to victory? This is the novel I feel most uncertain about.
Annihilation: I had VanderMeer’s incredibly well-received start to his Southern Reach trilogy as the frontrunner for most of the year. However, VanderMeer has been hurt because of his lack of other SF awards this season: no Hugo, and he’s only made the Campbell out all of the other awards. I think this reflects some of the difficulty of Annihilation. It’s a novel that draws on weird fiction, environmental fiction, and science fiction, and readers may be having difficulty placing it in terms of genre. Add in that it is very short (I believe it would be the shortest Nebula winner if it ever wins) and clearly the first part of something bigger, is it stand-alone enough to win? The formula doesn’t think so, but formulas can be wrong. I wouldn’t be stunned by a VanderMeer win, but it seems a little unlikely at this point.
Coming Home: Ah, McDevitt. The ghost of the Nebula Best Novel category: he’s back for his 12th nomination. He’s only won once, but could it happen again? There’s a core of SFWA voters who must love Jack McDevitt. If the vote ends up getting split between everyone else, could they drive McDevitt to another victory? It’s happened once already, in 2007 with Seeker. I don’t see it happening, but stranger things have gone down in the Nebula.
Trial by Fire: The model hates Charles Gannon. He actually did well last year. According to my sources, he placed 3rd in the Nebula last year. Still, this is the sequel to that book, and sequels tend to move down in the voting. Gannon’s lack of critical acclaim and lack of Hugo success are what kills him in the model.
Remember, the model is a work in progress. This is only my second year trying to do this. The more data I collect, and the more we see how individual Nebula and Hugos go, the better the model will get. As such, just treat the model as a “for fun” thing. Don’t bet your house on it!
So, what do you think? Another win for Leckie? A fantasy win for Addison? A late tail-wind win for Liu?