The proposed Best Saga Hugo has been generating a lot of debate over the past few days. Check this MetaFilter round-up for plenty of opinions. I find it hard to think of awards in the abstract, so I’ve been generating potential lists of nominees. Today, I’ll try doing winners. Check out my Part 1 and Part 2 posts for some models of what might be nominated, based on the Locus Awards and Goodreads.
Today, I’m engaging in a thought experiment. What if the a Best Saga Hugo had begun in 2005? I’ll use the
400,000 already 300,000 word count rule of the proposal ( although it might get lowered in the final proposal). You have to publish a volume in your series to be eligible that year. I’m adding one more limiter, that of not winning the Best Saga Hugo twice. Under those conditions, who might win?
I’m using the assumption that Hugo voters would vote for Best Saga like they vote for Best Novel and other categories. Take Connie Willis: she has 24 Hugo nominations and 11 wins. I figure the first time she’s up for a Best Saga, she’d win. This means that my imagined winners are very much in keeping with Hugo tradition; you may find that unexciting, but I find it hard to believe that Hugo voters would abandon their favorites in a Best Saga category. I went through each year and selected a favorite. Here’s what I came up with as likely/possible winners (likely, not most deserving). I’ve got some explanation below, and it’s certainly easy to flip some of these around or even include other series. Still, this is gives us a rough potential list to see if it’s a worthy a Hugo:
2005: New Crobuzon, China Mieville
2006: A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin
2007: ? ? ?
2008: Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
2009: Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
2010: Discworld, Terry Pratchett
2011: Time Travel, Connie Willis
2012: Zones of Thought, Vernor Vinge
2013: Culture, Iain M. Banks
2014: Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Edit: I originally had Zones of Thought for 2007, having mistaken Rainbow’s End as part of that series. Vinge is certainly popular enough to win, so he bumped out my projected The Laundry Files win for Stross in 2012. That opened up 2007, and I don’t know what to put in that slot. Riverside by Ellen Kushner? That might not be long enough. Malazan? But that’s never gotten any Hugo play. If you have any suggestions, let me know. It’s interesting that there are some more “open” years where no huge works in a big mainstream series came out.
Notes: I gave Mieville and Scalzi early wins in their careers based on how Hugo-hot they were at the time. Mieville had scored 3 Hugo nominations in a row for his New Crobuzon novels by 2005, and there weren’t any other really big series published in 2004 for the 2005 Hugo. Scalzi was at the height of his Hugo influence around 2009, having racked up 6 nominations and 2 wins in the 2006-2009 period. These authors were such Hugo favorites I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t be competitive in a Best Saga category.
Rowling may seem odd, but she did win a Hugo in 2001 for Harry Potter, and these were the most popular fantasy novels of the decade (by far).
I wasn’t able to find space for Bujold, although the Vorkosigan saga would almost surely win a Best Saga Hugo sometime (I gave Banks the edge in 2013 because of his untimely passing; the only other time Bujold was eligible was 2011, and I think Willis is more popular with Hugo voters than Bujold). I gave Jordan the nod in 2014 for the same reason; The Expanse would probably be the closest competition that year.
Analysis: Is this imagined list of winners a good addition to the Hugos? Or does it simply re-reward authors who are already Hugo winners? Of this imagined list, 5 of these 10 authors have won the Best Novel Hugo, although only 3 of them for novels from their Saga (Willis, Vinge, and Rowling had previously won for books from their series; Scalzi and Mieville won for non-series books). 5 are new: Banks, Jordan, Pratchett, my 2007 wild card, and Martin, although Martin had won Best Novella Hugos for his saga works. So we’re honoring 40% new work, 60% repeat work. Eh?
Overall, it seems a decent, if highly conventional, list. Those 9 are probably some of the biggest and best regarded SFF writers of the past decade. A Saga award would probably not be very diverse to start off with; some of the series projected to win have been percolating for 10-20 years. Newer/lesser known authors can’t compete. On some level, the Hugo is a popularity contest. Expecting it to work otherwise is probably asking too much of the award.
I like that Culture and Discworld might sneak in; individual novels from those series never had much of a chance at a Hugo, but I figure they’d be very competitive under a Best Saga. I’ll also add that I think Mieville and Scalzi are at their best in their series, and I’d certainly recommend new readers start with Perdido Street Station or Old Man’s War instead of The City and the City or Redshirts.
It’s interesting to imagine whether or not winning a Best Saga Hugo would have changed the Best Novel results. Would Mieville and Scalzi already having imaginary Best Saga wins have stopped The City and the City or Redshirts from winning? One powerful argument for a Best Saga Hugo is that it would open up the Best Novel category (and even Best Novella) a little more. Even someone like Willis might win in Best Saga instead of Best Novel. On the other side, people might just vote for the same books in Best Novel as in Best Saga, which would make for a pretty dull Hugos.
One interesting thing about this list, particularly if you weren’t able to win the Best Saga award twice, is that it would leave future Best Saga awards pretty wide open. You’d have The Expanse due for a win, and the Vorkosigan Saga, and the Laundry Files, maybe C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner, probably Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight/Cosmere, maybe Dresden Files, and then maybe Ann Leckie depending on how she extends the Imperial Radch trilogy/series, but after that—the category would really open up.
That’s what I think would happen with a Best Saga Hugo: it would be very conventional for 5-10 years as fandom clears out the consensus major series, and after that it would get more competitive, more dynamic, and more interesting. Think of it as an award investing in the Hugo future: catching up with the past at first, but then making more room in the Best Novel, Best Novella, and even Best Saga categories for other voices. Of course, that’s a best case scenario . . .
So is this a worthy set of ten imagined winners? A disappointing set? A blah set? I’ll add that, as a SFF fan, I’ve read at least one book from each of those series; I’d be interested to know how man SFF fans would be prepared to vote in a Best Saga category, or whether we’d be swamped with a new set of reading. I also feel like having read one or two books from a series gives me a good enough sense to know whether I like it or not, and thus whether I’d vote for it or not. Others might feel different.
In my last post, I produced a hypothetical Best Saga Hugo model using the Locus Awards lists. In this model, I’ll use the Goodreads Choice Awards. I think this shows what might happen if the Best Saga Hugo were to become a sheer internet popularity contest, focusing on the best-selling and most-read works of the year. The Goodreads Choice is an open internet vote, and draws hundreds of thousands of participants. That’s much bigger than the WorldCon vote, so you would have to predict the WorldCon voters to act differently. I think if you combine this model with the last one you’d get a decent picture of what might actually happen. Consider this the “most extreme” case of what a Best Saga would look like.
Once again, I’m not using the exact rules of the Proposed Best Saga Hugo. I think those rules (400,000 words published) are too restrictive, as some major series don’t necessarily hit that word length. You’d also have the oddity of some series becoming eligible in their second book (like Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive), some eligible in their fourth or fifth book, etc. Instead, I’m using a less restrictive model just to get a sense of what’s out there. My model is: your series is eligible once you published the THIRD novel in your series, and you are eligible again every time you publish a new NOVEL in your series.
If I was actually going to make the Best Saga a real Hugo, I’d probably change “novel” to “volume” to include short story sagas, and I’d probably add a kicker that “if your series has previously won a Best Saga Hugo, you are not eligible to win another.” I’m also a loose idea “shared universe” rather than “continual narrative,” although that could be argued. I’d want the Hugo to be as broad as possible to make it truly competitive; the more you restrict, the less choice voters have.
Either way, this is just a hypothetical to see what is actually out there, and what such an award might look like in a real world situation.
Methodology: The same as last time. Goodreads publishes Top 20 lists of the most popular SF and F novels; I combed through the list and chose the most popular that were part of a series. The Goodreads lists actually publishes vote totals, so I used those to determine overall popularity. Here’s the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards; note that these would be the books elgible for the 2014 Hugo. The Goodreads categories are a little wonky at times. Keep that in mind. They also separated out Paranormal Fantasy until 2014, so no Dresden Files or Sookie Sackhouse in the model.
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam, SF #1, 16,481 votes)
Silo, Hugh Howey (Dust, SF #2, 13,802 votes)
Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (A Memory of Light, F #2, 13,021 votes)
Gentleman Bastards, Scott Lynch (The Republic of Thieves, F #3, 7,231 votes)
Old Man’s War, John Scalzi (The Human Division, SF #5, 4,301 votes)
The Dark Tower, Stephen King (The Wind Through the Keyhole, F #1, 8,266 votes)
Thursday Next, Japer Fforde (The Woman Who Died a Lot, F #2, 5,221 votes)
Sword of Truth, Terry Goodkind (The First Confessor, F #3, 4,510 votes)
Ender’s Shadow, Orson Scott Card (Shadows in Flight, SF #5, 3,416 votes)
Traitor Spy, Trudi Canavan (The Traitor Queen, F #6, 3,142 votes)
Note: I left out a Star Wars book (Darth Plagueis, SF #4, 4,584 votes; how do you handle multi-author series?), and you could certainly argue The First Confessor is a new Goodkind series, not a continuation of Sword of Truth. I haven’t read either, so I can’t meaningfully comment. The next series popping up are for Robin Hobb (do you count all her work as one series, or as a series of trilogies?) and James S.A. Corey.
A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin (A Dance of Dragons, F #1, 8,530 votes)
Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Snuff, F #4, 2,479 votes)
Thursday Next, Japser Fforde (One of Our Thursdays is Missing, F #7, 1,584 votes)
Moirin Trilogy, Jacqueline Carey (Naamah’s Blessing, F #9, 1,391 votes)
WWW Trilogy, Robert Sawyer (Wonder, SF #12, 420 votes)
Note: Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicle #2) is F #3 with 4,962 votes; given the length of The Kingkiller Chronicle books, this would probably be eligible under the 400,000 word proposal. There were not a lot of series in this year in the Goodreads votes for 2012. I think it’s faulty to assume that every year we have lots of volumes in long trilogies published. A real worry of the Best Saga would be that it wouldn’t be competitive every year, i.e. you might not have 5 good choices.
Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Towers of Midnight, F #1, 440 votes)
Time Travel, Connie Willis (Blackout SF #2, 334 votes)
The Black Jewels, Anne Bishop (Shalador’s Lady, F #8 286 votes)
Blue Ant Trilogy, William Gibson (Zero History SF #7, 213 votes)
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Cryoburn, SF #9, 188 votes)
Note: You can really see that how unpopular Goodreads was back in 2011; they increased their vote totals tenfold between 2011 and 2012. I also left off a Star Wars novel here.
Winners: Atwood, King, Martin, Jordan and Sanderson. It’s interesting how popular Atwood was, even if that popularity didn’t bleed over into WorldCon circles. Could you live with this set of winners?
This model looks less encouraging than the Locus Awards model. I think this is what many Hugo voters are afraid of: legacy series like Ender’s Game, Sword of Truth, or even Wheel of Time, showing up long after their critical peak has worn off (if Goodkind ever had a critical peak). Series can maintain their popularity and sales long after their innovation has vanished; readers love those worlds so much that they’ll return no matter how tired and predictable the books are. A 10 or 15 year series also has 10 or 15 years to pick up fans, and it might be harder for newer series by less-established authors to compete.
Still, even the Goodreads awards were not swamped by dead-man walking series, and the Hugo audience would probably trim some of these inappropriate works in their voting. It would be interesting to see someone like King win a Hugo for The Dark Tower; that’s certainly a very different feel than the current Hugos have.
This gets to the heart of the Saga problem: are you voting for the Saga when it was at its best, or for that specific novel? The first three Ice and Fire novels are some of the best fantasy novels of the 1990s; A Dance with Dragons is not at the same level. So what are you honoring? Martin when he was writing his best some 15 years ago? Or Maritn’s writing now? Same for Pratchett. I’m a strong supporter of Discworld as being one of the major fantasy series of the last 30 years, based on works such as Small Gods and Guards! Guards!. But is Snuff equally important
A Best Saga award would be an interestingly hybrid award, split between being a “career” honor and a “this year” honor. I think it would produce a lot of debate, and if that’s what you’re looking for in a Hugo—you’d have it with a Best Saga/Best Series award.
Recently, there’s been plenty of chatter in the blogosphere about the proposed Best Saga Hugo Award. You can go here to see the specific proposal that will be up for vote at Sasquan this year, but this is an idea that’s been buzzing around for years: many readers (most readers?) engage with SF and particularly Fantasy in the form of multi-volume series. The Hugo Best Novel award, on the other hand, steers away from ignore multi-volume works, privileging novels that are either the first in a series or stand-alones.
A Best Saga (or Best Series, or Best Continuing Series) Hugo would seek to solve that. While the current proposal makes you eligible after you publish 400,000 words in a series (how would readers know you’ve hit that word count? Why 400,000?) and once you get nominated you aren’t eligible again until you publish another 400,000 more, there are many ways to formulate a potential Best Saga award. I’ve heard proposals ranging from awarding it every 5 years, to only giving it once a series is finished, etc.
But what it such an award really look like? What kind of series would get nominated? Would it reward only famous authors? Would authors end up winning both the Best Novel and the Best Saga in the same year? Would this encourage publishers to publish more and longer series? Would ants destroy the earth? So many questions, so few answers.
I find it difficult to imagine an award in the abstract, so in this post and the next I’m going to model what a hypothetical Best Saga Hugo would look like for the past 4 years (2011-2014), using two different techniques to generate my model. First up, I’ll use the Locus Awards to model what the Best Saga would look like if voted on by SFF-insiders. Then, I’ll use the Goodreads Choice Awards to model what the Best Saga would look like if the Best Saga became an internet popularity contest. Looking at those two possible models should give us a better idea of how a Best Saga Hugo would actually play out. I bet an actual award would play out somewhere in the middle of the two models.
Lastly, I’m not messing with the complexities of the whole 400,000 word thing. In my model, I’m envisioning an extremely straightforward Best Saga award: your series is eligible once you published the THIRD novel in your series, and you are eligible again every time you publish a new NOVEL in your series.
First up, the Locus Awards Best Saga Model, 2011-2014. Since the 2015 Locus Awards come out this Saturday, I’ll update the model to include 2015 once the results are in.
Methodology: The Locus Awards are voted on by the subscribers of Locus Magazine and others on the internet to determine the Best SF and F novels of the year. They publish a Top 20 list for each genre, and their data is best looked at on the Science Fiction Awards Database. These are genre enthusiasts; if you have a subscription to Locus, you’re a very involved fan. These awards have historically been very closely aligned with the Hugo Award for Best Novel, often choosing the same books. The Locus Awards are friendlier to series and sequels than the Hugos, however.
To put my list together, I looked at the tops of the SF and F Locus Award lists for the year. Using the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, I checked to see if each of the winners was part of a series. If it was Volume #3 or later, it made my list. I went down both lists equally, and stopped once I found five series. The name of the series appears first, and the name of the individual book and it’s place in the Locus Awards comes after.
The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Abaddon’s Gate, SF #1)
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam, SF #4)
Foreigner, C.J. Cherryh (Protector, SF #6)
Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Raising Steam, F #7)
The Dagger and the Coin, Daniel Abraham, (Tyrant’s Law, F #14)
Laundry Files, Charles Stross, (The Apocalypse Codex, F #1)
Culture, Iain M. Banks (The Hydrogen Sonata, SF #3)
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, SF #4)
The Expanse, James S.A. Corey, (Caliban’s War, SF #5)
The Glamourist Histories, Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamour in Glass, F #5)
A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin (A Dance with Dragons, F #1)
Zones of Thought, Vernor Vinge (Children of the Sky, SF #4)
Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Snuff, F #3)
The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin (The Kingdom of the Gods, F #6)
Jacob’s Ladder, Elizabeth Bear (Grail, SF #7)
Time Travel, Connie Willis (Blackout/All Clear, SF #1)
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Cyroburn, SF #2)
Laundry Files, Charles Stross (The Fuller Memorandum, F #3)
Culture, Iain M. Banks (Surface Detail, SF #4)
The Blue Ant Trilogy, William Gibson (Zero History, SF #5)
Projected Winners: Expanse, Laundry, Ice and Fire, Time Travel. Seems like a pretty credible list. Those have been some of the genre favorites of the last 4 years.
There were also some nice surprises. Iain M. Banks was only nominated for a Hugo once (for The Algebraist), but Culture showed up twice in this model. Culture was incredibly well-regarded, but also hard for new readers to jump into. I think Hugo voters felt it was unfair to ask someone to read Culture #7 or #8, and thus Banks didn’t get the nominations he deserved. Would a Best Saga award solve that problem?
Pratchett scored 2 nominations for Discworld, a nice end-of-the-career capper for his beloved fantasy series. There was a wide variety of authors in this model: Kowal, Jemisin, Gibson, Atwood, Bear, Abraham. Some super famous, some not. Maybe those would be squeezed out in an actual vote, but the Locus audience—and the Hugo audience—is fairly sophisticated. I find it hard to believe that the same Hugo voters who gave Connie Willis the Best Novel Hugo for Blackout/All Clear are going to turn around and vote Xanth or Drizzt as Best Saga every year. Who knows, though? These are only hypotheticals.
You only have one awkward year, with Willis predicted to win both Best Saga and Best Novel in 2011. Given that Willis has a staggering 11 Hugo wins already, I’m not sure that’s any more dominant than she’s already been. But I also think it possible that voters would have given Willis the Best Saga nod and someone else the Best Novel Hugo. Martin’s projected win in 2012 would be some much needed recognition for A Song of Ice and Fire: Martin’s decade-defining fantasy has only one Hugo win, a Best Novella for the Daenerys sections of A Game of Thrones. The Expanse winning is also nice: that’s become an incredibly popular and mainstream series, only to be bolstered by the TV showing coming out this December. By using the Best Saga award to honor such populist texts, would the Hugo increase its credibility?
It would probably take a few years for a Best Saga award to settle down, but this insider model shows some promise for such an award. What do you think of this projection? Would the WorldCon be satisfied with these kinds of nominees and winners?
Next time, we’ll imagine the Best Saga as an internet popularity contest using the Goodreads Choice Awards. Stay tuned for the terrifying results!
I’m off to Colorado for the week to meet up with the family—no Chaos Horizon posts for the week (6/12-6/20). Things are quiet in June anyways. When I get back, we’ll starting crunching the numbers for the Hugo prediction, and then I’m going to post my too-Early Nebula 2016 Prediction on July 1. See you then!
Congratulations to VanderMeer. I’ve been an avid VanderMeer fan for more than a decade, and City of Saints and Madmen is my favorite fantasy novel from the 2000s. That novel is an experimental masterpiece, a collection of four linked novellas that takes place in Ambergris, a fantastically weird city that may (or may not) be overrun by a race of mysterious mushroom creatures. It’s a fabulous mash-up of Pynchon-esque conspiracy, Kafka-esque weirdness, David Foster Wallace-style textual shenanigans (footnotes and what not), and high fantasy imagination. It’s certainly not a novel for everyone, and I never imagined that VanderMeer would pass over from the fringe to the mainstream. VanderMeer had always been too weird to be popular, too obtuse to be widely read, and it’s fascinating that he managed to evolve his style into something as accessible as Annihilation.
VanderMeer continued his Ambergris trilogy with the brilliant Shriek, a dual-layered pseudo-memoir about an art-dealer in Ambergris and his investigation of the mushroom men, and then wrapped it all up with Finch, a pseudo-noir that explained the mysteries of the mushroom race. The explanations are never as good as the mysteries, and VanderMeer is at his best when he’s delivering the what-the-hell-is-going-on ambiguity of City of Saints and Madmen. No book this side of The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Williamson does a better job of puzzling and intriguing the reader, and if you’re willing to take that journey with VanderMeer, you’ve got nothing but pure baffled enjoyment in front of you.
It’s that kind of absolute strangeness that flows through Annihilation. While VanderMeer has backed off some of his stylistic weirdness in this volume, he amps up the mystery, horror, and psychological intrigue. In this novel, a team is sent by the government to explore Area X, a patch of America that has gone entirely wonky. Aliens? Horrors? Government conspiracy? Drugs? Failed expedition after failed expedition hasn’t gotten to the bottom of what exactly is happening. Annihilation gives us a new expedition into Area X, and with it a descent into madness and mystery.
I don’t like Annihilation as much as VanderMeer’s other work. I’m reminded of what Cormac McCarthy did in his The Border Trilogy: he backed off some of his weirdness as a writer to make his work more accessible to readers. That’s worked extremely well in Annihilation, and it’s a great place to start for new VanderMeer readers. It’s the new audience that VanderMeer has attracted which has likely driven Annihilation to Nebula victory.
I’d still recommend City of Saints and Madmen over this. I even taught that novel in a 600 level Post-Modern literature seminar a few years ago. I also like Veniss Underground a great deal, although that novel is probably even fragmented and difficult than City of Saints and Madmen.
So why did Annihilation win the Nebula? It was one of the most celebrated genre novels of the year, showing up on critics year-end lists almost as often as Ancillary Sword. It did a great business, seeming to outsell Leckie (7,000 Goodreads ratings for Ancillary Sword as of 6/6/15) by a wide margin (23,000 Goodread ratings for Annihilation as of 6/6/15). VanderMeer was widely heralded this year in mainstream venues such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Annihilation is also a quick read, and works well as a stand-alone horror novel.
Lastly, VanderMeer has been an incredibly hardworking author over the last decade. He helped co-edit (with his wife) one of the best anthologies in recent memory, the massive and definitive The Weird. He’s also put his time in the trenches, even writing a Predator tie in novel (Predator: South China Seas, which is pretty good) and a Halo novella (forgettable). Despite boiling the pot to pay his bills, he’s someone who’s plugged away at his craft, publishing uncompromising and difficult works that had a limited audience. As he’s stepped into the mainstream, he’s done that with grace and success. The SFWA is a group of writers, and I they valued the writerly-ness of VanderMeer. I know I do: VanderMeer is one of the most unique and original authors working in the SF/Fantasy/Horror space. He deserves whatever honors he can get.
In my prediction work on Chaos Horizon, I had VanderMeer as the front runner most of the year. I moved VanderMeer up to the #1 spot in my November 2014 prediction, and kept him there until my Nebula Prediction formula kicked him down to #4. While that is certainly disappointing, the formula did give VanderMeer a 16.8% chance to win, only 3% behind Leckie’s formula leading 19.4%. To tighten up my formula, I’ll need to add indicators punishing (which would have moved Addison into the lead) and rewarding a high number of Goodreads ratings. It’s actually better for Chaos Horizon when the formula doesn’t work, particularly in these early years. This allows me to make corrections, and to make my predictions better in the future.
The 2015 Gemmell Legend Award, an internet vote for the Best Fantasy Novel of the year, is now open for voting! The finalist are:
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (HarperCollins)
Valour by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (HarperCollins)
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)
The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (Orbit)
I find the Gemmell a fascinating award for several reasons. First, this is true “open internet vote” award: anyone can vote, and it pulls in a very different voting audience than the “pay to vote” Hugo. As such, you get a very different feel in this award: very populist, very mainstream, very best-sellery. Second, the Gemmell moves perpendicular to the other SFF awards: this and the World Fantasy Award couldn’t be more different in terms of the books they honor. The Gemmell is all about big epic series fantasy, whereas the other awards avoid such novels like the plague.
In my meta-awards tracking, I track 15 different SFF awards. Not a single of these 5 authors was nominated for any of the other 14 awards. To be fair, the major fantasy nominees (the World Fantasy and British Fantasy) haven’t been announced yet. I could see Abercrombie grabbing a nomination in one of those, but not the other Gemmell finalists.
This Gemmell will be a fascinating contest. We have three former winners going head-to-head in a fantasy deathmatch: Mark Lawrence (2014 winner for Emperor of Thorns), Brent Weeks (2013 winner for The Blinding Knife), and Brandon Sanderson (2011 winner for The Way of Kings). Add in Joe Abercrombie, and you probably have the most competitive Gemmell ever.
I think the Gemmell boils down to pretty much a popularity contest. In that case, Sanderson should win, as he’s the most popular of these big “epic” fantasy writers. In this case, the broad sweep of Goodreads can help. Check how popular these books are in terms of ratings on that site:
Words of Radiance: 52,766 ratings, 4.76 average
The Blinding Knife: 26,911 ratings, 4.46 average
Half a King: 12,067 ratings, 4.01 aveage
Prince of Fools: 5,933 ratings, 4.10 average
Valour: 1,566 ratings 4.42 average
A clear Sanderson advantage, no?