Modelling a Best Saga Hugo Award, Part 2

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.

2014:
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)

2013:
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.

2012:
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.

2011:
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.

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12 responses to “Modelling a Best Saga Hugo Award, Part 2”

  1. Peter O says :

    Some interesting results.

    I will note, in case it changes your calculations of eligible works, that the commentary under the proposal implies (http://sasquan.org/business-meeting/agenda/) that the rule as writen only allows renomination every 2 additional novels:
    “While George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire has had volumes of over 400,000 words and would have triggered fresh eligibility as many as three times in its five volumes to date on word count alone, the requirement to publish multiple volumes to gain fresh eligibility would restrict it to twice.”

    So Wheel of Time could have been nominated for either Towers of Midnight or A Memory of Light, among other changes.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Very true for the proposal. As I mentioned above, I’m not necessarily following their rules exactly; I’m going more broadly. Many of the works I listed wouldn’t meet the 400,000 word count, and thus wouldn’t be eligible under their proposal.

  2. davidelang says :

    The problem with just counting per volume is that works that are released only as e-books can be any size, so allowing something after X volumes would allow a series after just X short stories, but other ‘sagas’ may not have many, if any “Novel” length releases, so requiring X novels would eliminate them, even though there may be far more story content written, just because it fell short of the ‘novel’ category.

    You can argue over if 400K words is the right boundary, but since every other Hugo category is defined by wordcount, it makes sense to define “Saga” that was as well.

    A good example of the “Shared Universe” type of thing is Eric Flint’s 1632 series. He’s written several books in the series, but so have other authors, and there are now almost 60 bundles of short stories by various authors (the bi-monthly Grantvill3 Gazette). If this series is not considered part of the “Saga” category, is it really fair for it to only be considered as individual works without the ability to consider the larger picture?

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Good points. There’s no perfect solution, and it’s easy to get hung up on details. Would a series of short e-books really garner enough support to get nominated in the Best Saga category? Should we worry about something like that, or just let the community sort it out? I personally like more vagueness in the rules, because it then throws the decision onto the community as to whether or not something is a Saga. That’s only my perspective, though, and the merits of a crisper definition are easy to argue. Something like “400,000 words or at least two novels” might build in more flexibility and make the award more competitive. I don’t like a Saga award that eliminates trilogies, given the special place trilogies have in the fantasy tradition. I’d like to include those, but I’m more asking questions than making firm arguments.

      Share universes are an entirely different conundrum: 1632 is one example, but what about Star Wars? Dr. Who? Warhammer? Halo? Each of those big series would be eligible almost every year or every other year, given the sheer amount of publication in them. Again, I’d trust the community to sort it out, but the way fandom arguments have been going lately . . .

      • davidelang says :

        I’d worry about things like Star Wars winning the hugo every year if any of it had been nominated even once 🙂

        That said, Dr Who has been getting nominated very regularly for the TV show, would it be so horrible if it was nominated for Saga for the books?

        If there is a problem here, it seems like the solution would be to expand the number of nomination slots so the continual favorites still leave room for others to show up.

        Even if you limit it to a single author instead of a shared universe, there aren’t that many different authors of Star Wars or Dr Who books, so one or another of the authors would cross the threshold for nomination each year anyway. And if you disallow any ‘saga’ that has more than one author, you are cutting out a lot of good series.

      • Peter O says :

        I’d argue that there’s a difference between the way that 1632 is being run and most of the other ‘shared universes’ that you mention. I know Star Wars and Warhammer/40k both consider their ‘shared universe’ to be the background, then have both series and stand-alone stories within the universe.
        For instance, I consider both 1632 and WH40k’s Horus Heresy setting to be similar “shared-setting Sagas”, where the multiple authors share a setting around a single conflict and collaborate to keep unified stories interweaving between books. But I would then consider for 40k that the Gaunt’s Ghosts, NIghtlords, and Ciaphas Cain books are separate series, each eligible for nomination in their own right.
        Similarly for Starwars, though I don’t know that much about the books, you always hear about the “Thrawn Trilogy” as it’s own distinct series within the star wars universe, so I’d consider it as it’s own series.
        Halo, once again, Has It’s Forerunner Saga and Kilo-Five Trilogy, in addition to the overall ‘stand alone’ books.

      • chaoshorizon says :

        Thanks for the info; I’ll admit I haven’t read anything of Star Wars but Thrawn, and I haven’t read 1632.

        Your points led me to start thinking about Dune: would Herbert/Anderson’s continuation of Dune be a part of the original series (weirdly making Dune still eligible for best Saga), or would should it be considered a new series? You could run into some sticky points there, but these are probably minor obsessive details that only the most extreme of us fans are thinking about.

      • davidelang says :

        @chaoshorizon re: Dune etc

        This is why I’m less sure that once a ‘saga’ has won it should forever be blocked from future nominations.

        Sagas grow over time and something could win the award when it’s a trilogy and then grow from there to a bunch of different subsets. Frequently the initial trilogy name would then start being applied to the saga overall and the initial trilogy would start getting called something else.

        this is why I like Eric’s initial proposal that a saga would be eligible again after an additional 300K words have been published. Yes, it could mean that some sagas end up as standard items on the ballot, but we have that today in other categories without completely breaking them (art, webcomics, TV series), so I think it’s reasonable to try it with saga as well. If you’re really worried about that, besides having the 300K words and 2 publications requirement, add a 2 year minimum wait between winning and being eligible for a nomination.

        And if a series really does end up winning over several years, doesn’t that indicate that they are really doing a good job and we want to draw attention to them?

      • chaoshorizon says :

        That’s reasonable. Maybe a clause like “shared universe but new series/plotlines.” I still shy away from having something like George R.R. Martin win 3 times for Ice and Fire, but I could probably be fine with one win for the main 7 novels and then another win for the Dunk and Egg stories. You do point out that other Hugos—and other awards—survive that repetition fine. If Connie Willis can win a Hugo for every work in her Time Travel series, why not a little repetition? I think it’ll be easier to get a Best Saga Hugo passed if there are triggers to stop repetition, though.

      • davidelang says :

        Just like the way the novella elimination was pulled out of the proposal, I would suggest that the anti-repetition portion should be separate. It should be applied to the other categories as well (fanzine, webcomics, TV shows, etc) not just the saga category.

    • Warren Buff says :

      One thing we’re looking at right now is reducing the initial barrier to entry to 240K words across three volumes. That catches all but a scant few outliers in modern trilogies.

      We intend the category to be open to series composed in whole or in part of short fiction as well as novels, and have from the start. We definitely want to make this awards a win-once-and-that’s-it, which should address the problem you mention below of perpetual entrants dominating the category.

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