Review Round-Up Strategy for 2015

Tomorrow, I’m going to be starting my Review Round-Ups for 2015, closer looks at the major contenders for the 2016 Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards. I use these Round-Ups to springboard my predictions, and they’re a key aspect of the work I do here at Chaos Horizon.

I start with my 2016 Hugo/Nebula Watchlist, composed of new books by past awards winners and other 2015 novels that are getting significant pre-release buzz. I try to read the major contenders, and then I begin doing research on the books. Here’s what I’m currently looking at when I make predictions:

1. Genre: Certain types of novels are favored by the Hugos and Nebulas: a Hard SF novel has a better chance than an Urban Fantasy, for instance. Young Adult novels rarely make the cut.
2. Place in series: Unless previous novels in the series have been nominated, later volumes rarely receive awards nominations.
3. Previous awards history: This is a big one: the Hugos and the Nebulas love nominating the same people over and over again. Hello, Jack McDevitt.
4. Measurable sales data: I try to look at Goodreads, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly to get a sense of how a novel is doing. This is more useful for comparative cases than in terms of absolutes. So if two novels in a similar subgenres, like let’s say The Goblin Emperor and City of Stairs (broadly speaking, both are experimental fantasy novels), the one with more rankings/more sales gets the nod in my prediction. Amazon, Goodreads, and PW all track different audiences, and probably only make sense when utilized together.
5. Critical buzz: I’m currently looking at two different types of critics for 2015: mainstream venues such as the Publisher’s Weekly, NY Times, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, the Guardian, etc., venues that have huge national exposure and can help boost a novel’s raw readership. However, these mainstream venues don’t necessarily reflect the tastes of Hugo/Nebula voters, so I’m also looking at the SFF-specific websites and blogs: Locus, the B+N SF Blog, Tor, io9, Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, etc., to take a look at fandom’s reception of the book. I’m currently having trouble figuring out exactly which sites I should look at, so any suggestions of prominent review venues that you think reflect the Hugos/Nebulas would be appreciated.
6. Reader buzz: I look at the rankings from Amazon and Goodreads, and then I check my fellow WordPress bloggers to see how actual readers are thinking about these books. Some books can get great press in the critical realm and fall flat with the general readership, and vice-versa as well.

That’s a fair amount of data to look at. I weigh all of these factors together to come up with my predictions for the shortlists. I try to keep my personal opinions in the background. While it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pretend I don’t have my own opinions, I’m not particularly well correlated to Hugo/Nebula tastes. My three favorite novels from last year were The Three-Body Problem, The Bone Clocks, and Broken Monsters, for instance, which makes me 1 out of 3 with the awards. Better than a coin-flip, but not much.

So we’ll be beginning shortly. Here are some of the books I’ve already read this year and am planning on doing Review Round-Ups of shortly:
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
Touch, Clair North
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
The Book of Phoenix and Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson
Armada, Ernest Cline
Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey

We also have major possible nominees like The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (as sure fire a nominee as any this year), Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt, and then authors with more outside chances like Ken Liu, Kate Elliot, Zen Cho, Brandon Sanderson, Wesley Chu, Gene Wolfe, and Victor Milan. As these books begin to pick up buzz and the 2015 narrative takes shape towards the end of the year, they might join the list above.

Any other books you think have good chances for the 2016 awards? The sooner we know, the sooner we can start reading.

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13 responses to “Review Round-Up Strategy for 2015”

  1. MadProfessah says :

    Hmmm, on your list of 2015 books you have read I have read the ones in bold only.

    Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
    Touch, Clair North
    Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
    Uprooted, Naomi Novik
    The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
    The Book of Phoenix and Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
    Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson
    Armada, Ernest Cline
    Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey

    I do intend to read Seveneves and Lagoon and possibly The Water Knife and Aurora depending on your reviews. I have no truck with Novik’s Temeraire series so I would have to be strongly convinced by some external force to try Uprooted. I’m not a gamer and so I have avoided all of Cline’s works so far.

    Potential 2016 Hugo contenders would include Scalzi’s The End of All Things, no?

    I will definitely be nominating Nemesis Games for the 2016 Best Novel Hugo.

    Looking forward to seeing your review round-up!

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Is the Scalzi a novel or a collection of novellas? I don’t have enough of a sense of how it’s being presented/marketed.

      • Mark says :

        It’s being presented as both: each novella released separately, then the full collection coming out (in a few weeks or so). The Human Division had like 15 stories collected together, this only has 4. I believe each individual novella could be eligible for the novella award, or the whole collection. Given that this is a smaller collection of larger, closely related stories, I suspect it might gain more traction than The Human Division…

  2. NatLovin says :

    The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson (interesting but not fantastic, but still probably going to get nominated for something)

    The Just City/The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (really, really good, but seems to not be selling that well)

    Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory (prequel/companion to We are all completely fine, but with a completely different tone. Technically YA, but marketed as Fantasy for the most part.)

    And of course on the not-yet-out front, The Shepard’s Crown by Terry Pratchett. Also Ian McDonald’s last three books have been nominated for Hugos and and people seem interested in Luna: New Moon, so that’s probably one to watch.

    I still think a Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality campaign is likely to happen, but between the puppies and the backlash to the puppies I think it’s unlikely to succeed. Still worth looking at (but not worth reading).

    • chaoshorizon says :

      I have Wilson on my watchlist, but it’s been 5 years since his last Hugo nomination. I’ll have him somewhere around 10-15 in my prediction, I think.

      I liked The Just City a great deal (haven’t read the follow-up yet), but my initial thought that it’s too Greek for the Hugos/Nebulas. I’ll be interested to see where My Real Children landed in the Hugo stats this year.

      I didn’t know the McDonald was being published this year; that certainly will jump up my list. Another book to read!

      If the last Pratchett was an adult novel, I think it’d have a real chance. I’m less certain about a book from the YA Tiffany Aching series making it in. Still, you never know. Things are going to be so unpredictable this year due to possible campaigns.

  3. DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape) says :

    I haven’t read it yet, by my top guess for most of next year’s awards would be Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I’m pretty sure I saw that novel on everyone’s best of the year so far list.

    • MadProfessah says :

      Anyone read the two books released by Campbell-nominated Wesley Chunthis year: The Rebirths of Tao and Time Salvager?

      • chaoshorizon says :

        I have Time Salvager as a “to read if it shows up on year-end lists.” They sound interesting but a little slight.

        As an aside, I don’t get this new trend of publishing multiple books in the same year. VanderMeer last year, Jo Walton, Wesley Chu, Kate Elliot (Court of Fives and Black Wolves), Nnedi Okorafor (at least in the US with Lagoon and The Book of Phoenix), Ken Liu (Grace of Kings and his short story collection) this year, etc. I understand building momentum, but how much time and money do these authors think we have?

    • chaoshorizon says :

      I think Uprooted is a pretty safe bet at this point. It’s certainly gotten plenty of buzz and plenty of sales.

  4. MadProfessah says :

    I think that Brian Staveley has a pretty good shot of getting noticed for Providence of Fire, Book 2 in his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series. I think he’s a student/protege of Brandon Sanderson and the first two book have Goodreads average over 4.2 with Book 3 coming out in early 2016.

    I also know that Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle books seem to sell pretty well, but they have not gotten much awards love. The latest (Book 4) is The Skull Throne and I liked it quite a bit.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Given how popular epic fantasy is, I expect it to be more relevant in the Hugo awards sometime—I just don’t know when. Keep in mind neither Rothfuss nor Sanderson have ever made it into the Best Novel category for the Hugos/Nebulas, and you don’t get more popular than them. I expect Staveley has a great shot for a Gemmell Legend nomination next year, and I’d expect Brett to join him here (Daylight War was nominated in 2014). For the Hugos, I’m interested to see where Sanderson’s Words of Radiance shows up in the final nomination count. I suspect he’s creeping closer to a nomination.

  5. Standback says :

    I’ve seen The Just City come up for discussion from quite a few directions, and I loved it, so I hope it’s got a decent chance šŸ™‚

    Ken Liu is very popular with the Hugo crowd, so his Grace of Kings seems a likely contender – although (A) I’ve seen very little buzz about it since the initial rush around the book’s release and (B) I didn’t like it :-/

  6. NatLovin says :

    Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho is getting a lot of talk. I think there’s no way it doesn’t get on the Locus Award First Novel short list, and maybe it will get a Nebula or Hugo nod? Worth looking into IMHO

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