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.
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.