Archive | August 2015

2015 Hugo Analysis: Best Novel

The controversial 2015 Hugos have been given, and now it’s time to sift through the stats to see what we can learn. A couple preliminaries before we dive into the Best Novel category:

Here are the stats themselves: 2015HugoStatistics. I believe they are going to release the anonymous ballots at a later data so people can run simulations on them, but I don’t know when or how they’re going to do that.

If you’re not familiar with the tabulating process, this post from Staffer’s Book Review does a good job explaining the basics.

I know emotions are highly charged around the 2015 Hugos, but Chaos Horizon is a stat-driven site, and I try to hit the middle of the road in my estimates. This angers some commentators, who want me to minimize or maximize my estimates to bolster/attack a certain side. Chaos Horizon is not the frontline of the Hugo wars; we’re the room in the back where they do the autopsies. Feel free to question/interrogate the numbers as vigorously as you want, but keep the sniping and arguing about politics to a minimum.

Lastly, the analysis can only analyze behavior, not intent. If someone votes Butcher / Anderson one-two in the Best Novel, that’s behaving like a Sad Puppy. If you follow Vox Day’s suggestions, that’s behaving like a Rabid Puppy. If you vote all the Puppy picks below “No Award,” that’s behaving like a No Awarder. I can’t tell you why an individual voter did those things. I think we all know there’s a range of reasons someone might vote that way, and it’s never fun to get lumped into a group. That’s what voting does, though; it turns the individual into a list of numbers on the page. We’ll never be able to precisely “know” the reasons behind these numbers; the best we can do is have some rough estimates. Depending on your tolerance, you may want to add a “haze” around each of my estimates of 10-25%.

So, let’s get started. Here are my rough estimates from earlier in the week:

Core Rabid Puppies: 550-525
Core Sad Puppies: 500-400
Neutrals: 1400 (voted some Puppies, but not all)
Primarily No Awarders But Considered a Puppy Pick: 1000
Absolute No Awarders: 2500

That “Neutrals” is the most unsatisfying. Let’s see if we cant refine that today.

So let’s look at the initial pass of the Best Novel Results in the Race for Position 1:
1691: Three-Body Problem
1515: Goblin Emperor
1054: Ancillary Sword
874: Skin Game
268: No Award
251: Dark Between the Stars

5653 total votes. A couple immediate facts: 5950 voted for the Hugos in total, meaning 300 people sat out the Best Novel category. 95% of voters voted here. Around 3% voted No Award over everything, which is in-line with past years. That means 8% checked out of this category totally, or around 550 voters. Those are the true neutrals, I guess.

Vox Day, leader of the Rabid Puppies, suggested Three-Body Problem for first place. Is that number 525? Let’s confirm right now. Since Three-Body Problem won, it was eliminated immediately for the race for position #2. That means it was crossed off the ballot, and all of those first place votes went to the second name on the list. Since VD suggest Butcher, we should see an increase of around 500.

What do we see? 1264 Butcher votes. Subtract the first pass Butcher total 874, and we get 390 votes. That’s a little lower than expected, but not horribly so. It may be that not all the RP followed VD’s first place suggestion, or that some didn’t follow his second place selection. Anderson picked up (314-251) 63 votes from the Cixin Liu voters, which puts us back to around 450 Puppies who voted for Liu in round #1, then moved to a Puppy pick in Round #2.

So I think we can estimate that least 450 Puppy voters voted for Liu #1 in the Best Novel category. Since that novel beat Goblin Emperor by 200 for Best Novel, we can reaffirm that it was the Puppy voters who drove Liu to the win.

Now, let’s estimate the total number of Puppy voters. 874 voted for Skin Game #1, followed by 251 for Dark Between the Stars. That totals 1125, which we can think of as a rough estimate of the “maximum Sad Puppy vote,” or the number of people who could look past the controversy to vote a Sad Puppy pick #1. That group will consist of core Sad Puppies (those who voted all the Puppy picks above No Award) and neutrals who liked Anderson/Butcher better than any of the non-Puppy picks. Remember this 1125 doesn’t include the 450 Rabid Puppies who voted for Liu #1.

So we can say that we have a maximum Puppy vote of 1575, including Rabid Puppies, Sad Puppies, and Puppy-leaning neutrals. I think we can confirm that number by looking at some other categories. Take the max number of people in the swept categories (Novella, Short Story, etc.), who had a preference above “No Award.” I find that by looking at the Race for Position #5. Those numbers are 1476 (Novella), 1885 (Short Story), 1527 (Editor Short), 1769 (Editor Long), 1624 (Best Related Work). While there is some variation in those categories, I think 1600 looks like a good central estimate, perhaps with a +/- 200 around it. Again, these are rough, but I think they better reflect the data than my initial estimate.

So what does that mean? It means I should refine my neutral number:

Core Rabid Puppies: 550-525
Core Sad Puppies: 500-400
Sad Puppy leaning Neutrals: 800-400 (capable of voting a Puppy pick #1)
True Neutrals: 1000-600 (may have voted one or two Puppies; didn’t vote in all categories; No Awarded all picks, Puppy and Non-Alike)
Primarily No Awarders But Considered a Puppy Pick above No Award: 1000
Absolute No Awarders: 2500

That looks like a slightly more reasonable and refined range.

So let’s look at what happened after the first pass. Dark Between the Stars was eliminated, yielding the following numbers:
1727 (+36): Three-Body Problem
1544 (+29): Goblin Emperor
1082 (+28): Ancillary Sword
1004 (+130): Skin Game
271 (+3): No Award

The + number in parenthesis is the number of votes added in this pass.

Roughly half of KJA’s vote went to Butcher, and the other half equally split to the three other candidates. I think that’s a great indication that half the Anderson vote was core Sad Puppy, half was neutral.

No Award was eliminated next.

1758 (+31): Three-Body Problem
1565 (+21): Goblin Emperor
1117 (+35): Ancillary Sword
1013 (+9): Skin Game

These are voters who had a ballot that had No Award and then some works listed after that. A lot of these awarders (175) went to No Preference, indicating they didn’t have anything listed after No Award.

No it gets interesting. Skin Game gets cut next, and those 1013 votes are redistributed. Let me add No Preference in as well

2162 (+404): Three-Body Problem
1814 (+249): Goblin Emperor
1240 (+123): Ancillary Sword
437 (+237): No Preference

We had a huge surge to Three-Body Problem from the Skin Game voters, with half of those (the core Sad Puppies) choosing Liu over Leckie or Addison. Don’t forget those 237 who checked out completely, moving from Preference to No-Preference. That’s a pretty compelling stat: 641 Butcher voters wanted Liu or nobody. If you’re looking for a core number on the Puppy side who were “protesting” the more mainstream Hugo picks, is this it?

Next, Leckie goes by the wayside. If my analysis is correct, more voters should go to Addison than Liu.

2649 (+487): Three-Body Problem
2449 (+635): Goblin Emperor
555 (+118): No Preference

That’s the first time Addison has picked up more votes in a round than Liu. This lets us really see how different the tastes are of the Leckie supporters than the Butcher supporters. If those 400+ Rabid Puppy votes weren’t bolstering Liu’s totals, Addison would have won.

We don’t get as much data from the other passes because an author quickly gathered more than 50% of the vote, making a second pass unnecessary. From the Round #2, I can tell you that of The Dark Between the Stars 314 votes, more than half (169) went over to Butcher when he was eliminated. When Skin Games 1448 votes are eliminated, a massive 860 votes go to Goblin Emperor and a mere 226 to Leckie. 860-226 is more than 600, and that might be the Vox Day Rabid Puppy block in action.

In the Race for Position #4, No Award grabbed 2674 votes (very close to my core No Award vote of 2500), with Skin game at 2000 and Dark at 592. That means Butcher had a theoretical max of 2592 votes (if everyone voted had Butcher below Anderson on those ballots). That’s the closest a Puppy pick outside of Drama got to not getting No Awarded. That’s pretty close!

If we go back to my stats, does it work? 2500 No Awarders, 1800-1300 Rabid, Sad, and Puppy-leaners, plus around another 2000-1500 neutrals, some of whom sat out this round? If we subtract the 700 who didn’t have an opinion in this round from the neutrals, that leaves us with 1300-800. Did Butcher pick up close to 700 votes from that group?

It’s unusual to No Award a Novel in the Hugos. Even last year, Correia squeaked by, with a vote of 1161 to 1052, and Butcher is an order of magnitude more famous/well-liked than Correia. The vote here was a potential 2674-2592 against Butcher, meaning that the Anti-Puppy picked up (2674-1052) 1622 votes from 2014 to 2015, and the Puppy vote 1431 votes. That’s an almost 50/50 split in who was added this year. Of course, there are a lot of variables, including Butcher’s massive popularity—and we’re not talking about Butcher wining, put simply placing above No Award.

Still, a lot of numbers to chew on. Everyone take a look at the Best Novel stats, chew on them, and let’s see what else we can learn!


2015 Hugo Stats: Initial Analysis

Some preliminary numbers from the stats:

There were 5,950 total voters.

Rabid Puppies looks to be a little less than 10% of that. Comparing Vox’s recommendations in swept categories to the first round results (i.e. those who probably followed the suggestions):
Best Novella (Wright, “One Bright Star”): 556 (took fourth with 1050 eventual votes)
Best Short Story (Rzasa, “Turncoat”): 525 (took fourth with 1064 eventual votes)
Best Related Work (“The Hot Equations”): 595 (took second with 973 votes)
Best Editor, Short Form (Vox Day): 586 votes (took fifth with 900 votes)
Best Editor, Long Form (Toni Weiskopf): 1216 (obviously more people voted for her)
For reference:
Campbell (Eric Raymond): 489 votes (eventually took 4 with 748 votes)

I think those numbers are pretty clear: 556, 526, 595, 586. That’s the Rabid Puppy range, or at least those who closely followed VD’s suggestions. Should we call it 550-525? (Raymond was close to that range, but fewer people make it to the bottom of the ballot to vote the Campbell). I think the number who voted VD for Best Editor is probably closest to the actual number.

Initial Rabid Puppy Estimate: 550-525
That makes around 10% of the total vote, which is in line with what I expected.

I think we can use these same numbers to grab a “Sad Puppy” initial estimate, or at least the most hardcore Sad Puppy supporters (who voted all the Rabid/Sad Puppy picks above No Award). If look at the second set of numbers I gave, that’s 1050, 1064, 973, 900. Even Vox Day picked up 320 more voters from No Award. Is it fair to say those are the Sad Puppies? We’d get 1064-900 for the total Puppy vote. It looks to me like 500-400 Sad Puppies. I want to be looser here, because maybe some Rabid Puppies didn’t follow the VD suggestions, and maybe some other voters drifted in and voted for these texts.

Initial Sad Puppy Estimate: 500-400
We’ll have to refine that number over the next few days.

We can use the same swept categories to estimate the “No Awarders”: the people who voted for No Award over every Puppy pick. Here’s those numbers:

Best Novella: 3459 No Awarders
Best Short Story: 3053 No Awarders
Best Related Work: 3259 No Awarders
Best Editor, Short Form: 2672 No Awarders
Best Editor, Long Form: 2496 No Awarders

One more interesting number:
Best Novelette: 1732 No Awarders (remember, Heuvelt was a non-Puppy pick! In the final pass, he beat No Award 2618 to 2078).

That 3459, 3053, and 3259 number are pretty close. That seems the max No Award number: people who couldn’t stand any Puppy Pick. When there were more valid choices, such as in the Editor awards, No Award was still picking up 2600-2500 votes. In a case where a category was almost swept, the number was close to 2000. So I’m calling the No Awarders at 3450-2500. That’s a huge number, over 50% of the total pool.

I’m stunned at the 2500 No Awarders in the Editor categories; there were some mainstream, decent editors on that list. If 2500 people were voting No Award on that, that’s out of principle. So here’s how I’m estimating:

Initial Estimate of No Awarders Who Voted No Award out of Principle: 2500.
Initial Estimate of No Awarders Who At Least Considered Voting for a Puppy Pick But Eventually Didn’t: 1000.

Those numbers will clearly need some work. So that leaves us:
Core Rabid Puppies: 550-525
Core Sad Puppies: 500-400
Absolute No Awarders: 2500
Primarily No Awarders But Considered a Puppy Pick: 1000
That sums up to 4600 voters. We had 5950, so I think the remaining 1400 or so were the true “Neutrals” or the “voted some Puppies but not all.”

UPDATE, 8/25/15: By looking closely at the Best Novel category, I’ve updated my estimate, breaking the Neutrals into two categories:

Core Rabid Puppies: 550-525
Core Sad Puppies: 500-400
Sad Puppy leaning Neutrals: 800-400 (capable of voting a Puppy pick #1)
True Neutrals: 1000-600 (may have voted one or two Puppies; didn’t vote in all categories; No Awarded all picks, Puppy and Non-Alike)
Primarily No Awarders But Considered a Puppy Pick above No Award: 1000
Absolute No Awarders: 2500

END UPDATE, 8/25/15

Some percentages (estimates, not precise):
No Awarders: 3500 / 5950 = 59%
Neutrals: 1400 / 5950 = 22%
Rabid Puppies = 10%
Sad Puppies = 9%

What the Best Novel category would have looked like with No Puppy votes:
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu
Lock In, John Scalzi
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Other initial Best Novel analysis: Goblin Emperor lost the Best Novel to Three-Body Problem by 200 votes. Since there seem to have been at least 500 Rabid Puppy voters who followed VD’s suggestion to vote Liu first, this means Liu won because of the Rabid Puppies. Take that as you will.

I’m going to get some sleep. I’m tired, so I’m sure I slipped at least once on one of these numbers. Too much data! Happy analyzing!

2015 Hugo Results

The controversial 2015 Hugo season reached its final end with the awarding of the awards tonight. It was an interesting (if predictable) result, and over the next few days I’ll be breaking down the stats.

The full winners list is here. Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem won the Best Novel award. I’m looking forward to breaking down those numbers; there’s a possibility of a swing vote in regard to this novel. We’ve never had a translated novel win before, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a novel win from the lowest nominated position.

For the other categories: No Award won in every category swept by the Puppies (Related Work, Short Form Editor, Long Form Editor, Short Story, and Novella). This indicates that the “No Awarders” were a strong majority of 2015 Hugo voters. We don’t know why they voted “No Award” (whether on principle or because they read and disliked the nominated works/editors), and we’re never likely to know that. I assume it was a mix, but it’d be interesting to know the exact ratio. Interestingly, No Award didn’t bleed over into a category like Best Novelette, where the only non-puppy pick was Heuvelt’s “The Day the World Turned Upside Down.” There had been some online chatter of not giving Heuvelt a Hugo “by default”; the stats should tell us whether or not this was a close race.

With the Heuvelt and Liu wins, and Helsinki winning the WorldCon bid for 2017, this is the first time there’s actually a “World” in WorldCon.

What Chaos Horizon will do now is wait for the data set to come out and begin breaking things down. Good night, and blog with you tomorrow!

Gearing Up for Hugo 2015 Analysis

The Hugo Awards are almost upon us! These will be given out tonight, but I’m more interested in the numbers the Hugos will release alongside those. Over the next week, Chaos Horizon will be doing what Chaos Horizon does, digging into those to find trends, data, and info.

It should be a truly interesting analysis this year. At this point, we have no real idea about the numerical strength of the Sad Puppies, the Rabid Puppies, or the No Awarders. Once we begin putting some of those together, we’ll have a much better sense of the current shape of the field.

It’s going to take a while to sift through the data. Here’s my early game-plan; I’m laying this out there for a full critique from anyone who wants to comment. We need good numbers, no matter your position on any of the 2015 Hugo controversies.

Here’s what I think we can do:

1. Estimate the number of Rabid Puppies: Since Vox Day, the leader of the Rabid Puppies, posted Hugo voting recommendations, we can use those to estimate the Rabid Puppy numbers. In particular, I’ll be looking at the “first pass” numbers for a few swept categories, namely Best Editor, Short Form and the Campbell to come up with my initial estimate.

Here’s my methodology and chain of assumptions: Vox recommended himself for Short Form Editor. I’m making the assumption that only hardcore Rabid Puppy supporters are going to follow that. Given how controversial Vox currently is and how niche Vox’s editing is, I find it hard to believe you would support Vox Day for Short Form Editor if you aren’t a Rabid Puppy supporter. We have to make some assumptions here; this seems the safest to me. Contest in the comments if you wish.

With that number in place, I’m going to compare it to the Campbell, where Vox recommended Eric S. Raymond, often known as ESR. ESR is best known as an open source software advocate, and he has a very popular blog. He is not well-known as a SF writer, having only published one story in a Castalia House publication (Vox Day’s house). Again, the connection to Vox Day means that probably—and this is an estimate, not a fact—that primarily Rabid Puppy supporters are voting ESR. If the ESR vote number is close to the Vox number from Short Editor, that’ll be some good confirmation. If it’s not, I’ll rethink my assumptions.

I’ll then compare this number to Vox’s other recommendations in the other categories, particularly those that are controversial. Some categories won’t tell us anything; Vox recommended The Three-Body Problem in Best Novel and Guardians of the Galaxy in Best Long Form Dramatic; both of those will attract lots of non-Puppy support. In other categories, such as John C. Wright’s “One Bright Star to Guide Them” in Novella or “No Award” in Graphic Novel, we have a narrower field of support. If these numbers are close to each other (let’s say within 50), I’m confident in calling that the Rabid Puppy range. I should be able to double-check to see how many votes move from Vox Day’s recommended first choice to second choice in the voting.

2. Estimate the No Awarders: By looking at how many people voted “No Award” for their first choice in the swept categories (Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, Short Form Editor, Long Form Editor), we can get an easy initial estimate of how many people voted “No Award” over every Puppy pick.

3. Compare the first past No Awarders to the final pass No Awarders: This will give us a good estimate of the number of people who gave the Puppy ballots a chance. So if 300 voted No Award over every choice, but by the time we get to the 4th pass 1000 people voted no Award, I can produce an estimate of roughly 700 for “voted at least one Puppy pick.” This will be most useful in swept categories, and will allow me to come up with the what I’m calling the “Neutrals.”

4. Estimate Sad Puppies numbers: This is actually the hardest number to estimate. In theory if I have the Rabid Puppies, the No Awarders, and the Neutrals, everyone else is the Sad Puppies? This would be the group of people who didn’t follow Vox Day’s recommendations but still voted every Sad/Rabid Puppy pick above No Award. We’ll have some contamination by people who just liked that individual story, but if we had a broad group from 5-6 categories, the estimate should be decent. If you’ve got a better way of estimating this, let me know.

5. See if the Rabid Puppies impacted the Best Novel: If we take the final margin of victory in Best Novel and compare it to the Rabid Puppy estimate, we’ll know whether or not they were the swing vote for Best Novel.

So that’s the initial outline. Everything I do here on Chaos Horizon is open, so let me know what you think of the methodology. Once we sort through the final numbers, I’ll go back and start working on nomination numbers.

TL;DR: So here’s the basic initial approach. I’m going to break down the Hugo 2015 voters into four categories:
1. Rabid Puppies: People who followed Vox Day’s Hugo voting recommendations.
2. No Awarders: People who vote No Award over every Rabid/Sad Puppy pick.
3. Neutrals: People who voted at least one Puppy pick above No Award.
4. Sad Puppies: People who voted all Rabid/Sad Puppy picks above No Award, but didn’t follow Vox Day’s recommendations.

I’ll primarily be using the swept or nearly swept categories to do this.

Not perfect, I know, but it should give us something. Comments? Suggestions? Mathematical or analytical tricks I missed?

Brandon Sanderson Wins David Gemmell Legend Award

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Brandon Sanderson won his second David Gemmell Legend Award this past Saturday for his massive novel Words of Radiance. Words of Radiance also picked up the Ravenheart award for best cover art, and Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades won the Morningstar for best first fantasy debut.

The Gemmell has two rounds of voting, and they reported 17,059 votes in Round #1 and 19,700 votes in the finals. I’m not sure that’s the total votes across all three categories or not. Either way, this number compares favorably to the Hugos, which had a record number of voters this year at 5,950 this year.

The Gemmell is an interesting award because its so focused (fantasy novels, just three categories) and because this is an open internet vote. We could get a sense of what the Hugo might be like if they removed their entry bar (i.e. the $40 entry fee).

Sanderson won because he is incredibly popular. Just look at the number of Goodreads ratings for the finalists as of 8/10/15:
57,770 ratings: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
14,524 ratings: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
14,326 ratings: The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
6,910 ratings: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
1,832 ratings: Valour by John Gwynne

Not much of a contest, is it? Sanderson has emerged as one of—if not the—most popular fantasy writer working today. While George R.R. Martin is still more popular (a hit TV show will do that), and there is an argument to be made for Patrick Rothfuss and J.K. Rowling (if she ever writes fantasy again), Sanderson has been far more productive than those writers over the past 3-4 years. This steady flow of novels has catapulted him to a lofty status. Part of the appeal about reading an author like Sanderson is that you’re reading the books everyone else is reading, which is a powerful pull for fantasy fans. That’s how things were back in my day with Dragonlance. You also get your Sanderson fix every year. No 3-4 year wait like Rothfuss, Martin, Lynch, etc.

Jared over at Pornokitsch has been leading the charge with some great analysis of the Gemmell awards. He’s particularly tough on Sanderson, although his analysis glosses over what Sanderson does well, which is setting up magic systems and worlds that work by clear rules. Sanderson then gives us near-endless (you have to if you want to write 1000+ page novels) scenarios involving those rules. Sanderson works well because he gives us fantasy worlds that aren’t cloaked in a shroud of magic; when you read Words of Radiance, you feel like you “get” the world. Compared to the hand-waving magic of A Song of Ice and Fire or the “we-always-find-the-magic-we-need” plots of Harry Potter or The Kingkiller Chronicles, it feels very organized. Sanderson does coherent systems better than almost anyone else working in the field today, and its those systems that drive readers through Sanderson’s somewhat pedestrian prose and meandering plots.

I think Sanderson pulls a lot of his style from gaming, particularly the tabletop variety. At times, the appendices in the back of the book feel like DM rulebooks; I don’t think it should be any surprise that a generation of fantasy readers that grew up with D&D, Baldur’s Gate, Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, etc., would be drawn to Sanderson. There’s a steady drip-drip of information through Sanderson, and it’s that revealing of the world’s rules (not the plot) that drives the action.

All of this raises interesting questions about what an award should be. Should awards go to the most popular novels? Don’t they already receive enough attention, being the “most popular” already? Or does bringing attention to Sanderson help draw casual fantasy fans into the field, who are likely to pick up and enjoy him? The Hugo and Nebulas have gone one route, the Gemmell another.

Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves Review Round-Up

With Seveneves, Neal Stephenson has lived his dream of creating the three most awkwardly titled novels in SF history. Has there ever been a run of tongue-twisters as profound as Anathem, Reamde, and Seveneves?

Snark aside, Seveneves is one of the biggest SF novels of the year in every way: length, ambition, execution, and sales. Seveneves is going to make plenty of noise when the 2016 awards season rolls around. Stephenson has been a major SF writer for more than 20 years (Snow Crash hit in 1992; that makes me feel old), and Seveneves continues his investigations into the nature of knowledge, the future of humanity, and the ways that technological and social systems interact.

Seveneves begins with a bang: the moon is blown up on the first page. This sets off a chain of occurrences disastrous to humanity, and we’re launched into an 800+ plus journey about the survival of the species. A large cast of characters has to take to space, facing off with problems both practical (dwindling supplies), interstellar (cosmic radiation), and self-inflicted (divisive internal politics). Stephenson’s novel mixes a lot of discussion about orbital mechanics with the mechanics of group conflict. While I don’t want to give away all the twists, Stephenson launches us far into the future so that we can see the end-results of the choices made by human groups. We also eventually learn what Seveneves means and how to pronounce it.

This is the kind big, meaty, philosophical SF that Stephenson has perfected since Cryptonomicon. While you aren’t going to fall in love with Stephenson’s characters (we have an stand-in for Neil deGrasse Tyson, for instance) and you may object to the meandering plot, no one delves into the connections between science and social systems more deeply than Stephenson. You’ll either love the depth here or be turned relatively quickly. While I’ll have some later posts that get more deeply into the “meaning” of the novel—this books makes a great companion piece to Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, by the way—let’s focus now on his award chances.

For all of Stephenson’s fame, he hasn’t done particularly well with the Nebulas and Hugos. Stephenson has 3 Hugo nominations and 1 Best Hugo win, all in the Best Novel category: The Diamond Age won in 1996, and Cryptonomicon and Anathem scored nominations in 2000 and 2009. I think Seveneves is of similar length, ambition, and SF-ness to Cryptonomicon and Anathem, so I expect another Hugo nomination. The Nebula awards have largely ignored Stephenson: only 1 nomination back in 1996 for Snow Crash. That’s an impressive 20 year record ignoring Stephenson; I don’t think it will be any different this year.

A lot depends on how people talk about Stephenson. I think a real argument could be made that it’s Stephenson’s time to win another Hugo, as a sort of “way to go” for the past decade of writing. Alternatively, Seveneves could be written off as not as good as Cryptonomicon or Anathem, and thus not as worthy to win. Keep an eye on how people start blogging and writing about Seveneves.

To be fair to the Hugos and Nebulas, Stephenson is pretty much a novel only writer, which gives him less chances for awards nominations than an author publishing both novels and short stories. His novels are also formidably long, which I think helps and hurts his chances. If you commit to reading Seveneves, you’ll probably remember it, but the bar of entry is pretty high.

Or is it? When we turn to sales metrics, Seveneves does extraordinarily well for a SF novel. Seveneves reached the #5 spot on Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list, the second best as SF novel has done this year (Armada hit #3), and PW reported 30,000+ sales before it dropped off their list. On Goodreads as of 8/6/15, Seveneves has 9,280 ratings and a 4.03 score. As a contrast, Ancillary Sword only has 8,398 ratings and that came out 8 months earlier and already scored Hugo and Nebula noms. Amazon rings in at 1,066 ratings and a 4.0. There won’t be many SF novels this year that put up better numbers than Stephenson.

So what does this all mean? I think Seveneves is primed to follow Anathem to a Hugo nomination in 2016, and I think the Nebulas will ignore Stephenson just like they have for the past 20 years. This is a big, substantial novel that will attract the core SF audience, and Stephenson’s fame and positive reviews will break this novel past that core audience to other SF fans. The length is going to turn some readers off, and the more experimental (and at times pessimistic) nature of the book will also alienate some. Still, Stephenson is going to get enough readers, and enough positive readers, to be a strong player in 2015.

On to reviews:


Published May 19, 2015.

About the Book:
Neal Stephenson’s web page
Amazon page
Goodreads page

Mainstream Reviews:
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Kirkus Reviews
The New York Times
The Guardian
Entertainment Weekly (A-)
LA Times

Pretty much everyone in the mainstream reviewed Seveneves. This is extraordinary coverage for a SF novel, and the reviews are pretty uniformly positive as well. I could have gone on and added another dozen mainstream reviews, but the point is to compare this books using the same 7 venues. For an 800 page SF tome to get an A- from a venue like Entertainment Weekly says all you need to know about the mainstream embrace of this book. Basically, the mainstream is saying, “If you read one SF book this year, it should be Seveneves.”

SFF Reviews:
Barnes and Nobel SF Blog
Fantasy Book Critic
Boing Boing

Some of the SFF reviews have been slower to get out. Locus is usually here, but they haven’t put an online review up yet. It was definitely reviewed in the print magazine, but who reads print anymore? Reviews here are positive but actually less enthusiastic than the mainstream. Interesting.

WordPress Reviewers:
Bill’s Book Reviews (5 out of 5)
Relentless Reading (2.5 out of 5)
Rhapsody in Books (4 out of 5)
More Notes from Aboveground
Sharp and Pointed
Yet There Are Statues (3 out of 5)
The Dilettante’s Dilemma

Now we really get into it. I could have included more reviews—the book is very broadly discussed on WordPress—but this slice gives you a good representative sample. Seveneves was very divisive: some loved it, some hated it. You expect that with a book that’s so long and takes so many chances. For those readers who disliked it, it was often a question of engagement. Seveneves is a very dry read, and, in some ways, very philosophical/political. I think as the online discussion evolves, more people will engage with those politics, and anything political has a real chance to alienate some readers. Stephenson’s view of humanity is highly critical, and the books conclusions about scientific versus social knowledge cut against some 21st century political trends. As more readers have read the book and we don’t have to worry about spoilers, I expect Stephenson’s highly unusual take on knowledge, race, genetics, etc., to become even more divisive.

My take: For me, Seveneves has been the best SFF novel I’ve read in 2015 (although Cixin Liu’s Dark Forest is coming out soon). While it can be slow-moving and awkward at times, this novel had such a depth of philosophical and scientific discussion that it overwhelmed any character/plot shortcomings. I appreciate the ambition and scope of Seveneves—as well as a surprisingly detailed amount of hard science about orbital mechanics—and that ambition and scope carried me easily through the 800+ page length. I don’t necessarily agree with Stephenson’s observation about humanity, but they were well enough made to be highly interesting. I find more value in a book I can argue and debate with than one that I simply agree with, and Seveneves gave me plenty to think about. Highly recommended, 9 out of 10.

So, what do you think? Is Seveneves a Hugo frontrunner for 2016?

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