Modelling a Best Saga Hugo Award, Part 1

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.

2014:
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)

2013:
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)

2012:
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)

2011:
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!

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4 responses to “Modelling a Best Saga Hugo Award, Part 1”

  1. Warren Buff says :

    I’ve done some grinding through the Locus list. I caught at least one work you missed, and dropped one you’d included that was #2 in its series. I also went all the way down the available data, and included YA works.

    Using the principle of requiring two new volumes to get a fresh nomination, and excluding past winners, I see ballots as follows:

    2014: (Foreigner excluded, Discworld has fresh eligibility)
    The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Abaddon’s Gate, SF #1)
    Gentleman Bastard, Scott Lynch (The Republic of Thieves, F #3)
    Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam, SF #4)
    Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Raising Steam, F #7)
    The Dagger and the Coin, Daniel Abraham, (Tyrant’s Law, F #14)

    2013: (Laundry Files and Vorkosigan Saga excluded)
    Culture, Iain M. Banks (The Hydrogen Sonata, SF #3)
    The Glamourist Histories, Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamour in Glass, F #5)
    Curse Workers, Holly Black (Black Heart, YA #8)
    Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch (Whispers Under Ground, F #9)
    Foreigner, C.J. Cherryh (Intruder, SF #10)

    2012: (Discworld excluded)
    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)
    Leviathan, Scott Westerfield (Goliath, YA #4)
    The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin (The Kingdom of the Gods, F #6)
    Jacob’s Ladder, Elizabeth Bear (Grail, SF #7)

    2011:
    Time Travel, Connie Willis (Blackout/All Clear, SF #1)
    Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Cryoburn, SF #2)
    Discworld, Terry Pratchett (I Shall Wear Midnight, YA #2)
    Laundry Files, Charles Stross (The Fuller Memorandum, F #3)
    Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (Mockingjay, YA #3)

    With favorites of Connie Willis, George R.R. Martin, Iain M. Banks, and James S.A. Corey. Fairly close to your list, honestly. Complete data follows:

    2014:
    The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Abaddon’s Gate, SF #1)
    Gentleman Bastard, Scott Lynch (The Republic of Thieves, F #3)
    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)
    Orthogonal, Greg Egan (The Arrows of Time, SF #14)
    Spiritwalker, Kate Elliott (Cold Steel, F #15)
    Milkweed, Ian Tregillis (Necessary Evil, F #16)
    Quiet War, Paul McAuley (Evening’s Empires, SF #16)
    Narbondo, James Blaylock (The Aylesford Skull, F #17)
    Anno Dracula, Kim Newman (Johnny Alucard, F #19)
    Owner, Neal Asher (Jupiter War, SF #21)
    Liaden, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (Trade Secret, SF #22, and Necessity’s Child, SF #23)

    2013:
    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 Glamourist Histories, Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamour in Glass, F #5)
    Curse Workers, Holly Black (Black Heart, YA #8)
    Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch (Whispers Under Ground, F #9)
    Foreigner, C.J. Cherryh (Intruder, SF #10)
    Kefahuchi Tract, M. John Harrison (Empty Space, SF #11)
    Narbondo, James Blaylock (Zeuglodon, YA #11)
    Graceling Realm, Kristin Cashore (Bitterblue, YA #13)
    Weirdstone Sequence, Alan Garner (Boneland, F#17)
    Bel Dame Apocrypha, Kameron Hurley (Rapture, SF #18)
    Giver, Lois Lowry (Son, YA #20)
    Dagmar Shaw, Walter Jon Williams (The Fourth Wall, SF #21)
    Ringworld Companion, Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner (Fate of Worlds, SF #22)
    Virga, Karl Schroeder (Ashes of Candesce, SF #23)
    Quiet War, Paul McAuley (In the Mouth of the Whale, SF #26)

    2012:
    A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin (A Dance with Dragons, F #1)
    Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Snuff, F #3)
    Zones of Thought, Vernor Vinge (Children of the Sky, SF #4)
    Leviathan, Scott Westerfield (Goliath, YA #4)
    The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin (The Kingdom of the Gods, F #6)
    Jacob’s Ladder, Elizabeth Bear (Grail, SF #7)
    Abarat, Clive Barker (Absolute Midnight, YA #7)
    Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (Vortex, SF #10)
    Marsbound, Joe Haldeman (Earthbound, SF #11)
    Alex Benedict, Jack McDevitt (Firebird, SF #12)
    Beka Cooper/Provost’s Dog, Tamora Pierce (Mastiff, YA #12)
    Parasol Protectorate, Gail Carriger (Heartless, F #14)
    Dream Archipelago, Christopher Priest (The Islanders, SF #14)
    Fever Crumb, Philip Reeve (Scrivener’s Moon, YA #18)

    2011
    Time Travel, Connie Willis (Blackout/All Clear, SF #1)
    Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Cryoburn, SF #2)
    Discworld, Terry Pratchett (I Shall Wear Midnight, YA #2)
    Laundry Files, Charles Stross (The Fuller Memorandum, F #3)
    Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (Mockingjay, YA #3)
    Culture, Iain M. Banks (Surface Detail, SF #4)
    Blue Ant, William Gibson (Zero History, SF #5)
    Anvil of the World, Kage Baker (The Bird of the River, F #9)
    The Keys to the Kingdom, Garth Nix (Lord Sunday, YA #10)
    Chaos Walking, Patrick Ness (Monsters of Men, YA #11)
    Parisol Protectorate, Gail Carriger (Changeless, F #12)
    Monster Blood Tattoo/Foundling’s Tale, D.M. Cornish (Factotum, YA #13)
    Tales of Henghis Hapthorn, Matthew Hughes (Hespira, F #17)
    Liaden, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (Saltation, SF #18)
    Morlock the Maker, James Enge (The Wolf Age, F #19)
    Corban Loosestrife, Cecelia Holland (Kings of the North, F #22)

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Thanks for the double check! Much appreciated.

      Your fuller lists give us a good sense of how many different choices the Hugo voters would have. That’s at least 15+ just from the Locus lists alone. I’m sure some of the major mainstream fantasy series didn’t make it on, which might bump the numbers up at least another 15. Interestingly, the problem the other Hugo categories face—decentralization, particularly in the Short Fiction categories—wouldn’t be an issue here.

      • Warren Buff says :

        Right. One of the usual tests when discussing a potential new category is whether in any given year, you can expect at least 15 worthy and well-known candidates for the nomination. Since it seems that there’s some minimum threshold for listing on the Locus rankings, the fact that we find around 15-20 series with novels on the list in any given year is a good indicator of the breadth of quality in the field. And of course, we’re not seeing some series like Ring of Fire/1632 in the Locus list, and certainly many of the high fantasy and urban fantasy series are missing.

        One pleasant surprise was the representation of YA work — only 2014 didn’t have a YA series in the top five, in part because of a quirk of the year, in that the only YA work that was book 3 or later that made the Locus list was one I knew to fall well short of the word count — Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, which tends to come in 250-page installments. We’re dealing with a balancing act of wanting to make sure we can recognize the bulk of trilogies without letting through something truly absurd and contorted from a high fantasy author. We’re likely to bring the word count down to something approaching a standard SF trilogy in the final proposal.

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