Archive | November 2015

SFWA 2015 Nebula Recommended Reading List: Analyis and Prediction

In a somewhat surprising move, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) decided to make their annual “Nebula Recommended Reading List” available to the public. I say this is surprising because the Nebulas have historically been a closed shop. They don’t share voting numbers with the public, only the list of nominees and winners. Here’s the Press Release, and a link to the list pages themselves.

This list is gathers the various SFWA members’ (i.e. Nebula voters) recommendations as to the best of the year. They also included the number of recommendations for each work. They even threw in the data from 2014! All of this is stunning because it gives us an enormous amount of information to predict the Nebulas. In fact, this is the best data I’ve ever had at Chaos Horizon!

To use this information to predict the upcoming Nebulas, I’ll need to look to see whether the 2014 recommendations were correlated to the eventual Nebula nominees and winners. Sneak preview: they are, to the tune of 84% accuracy! Winning was a little dicier, with only 50% accuracy from the Suggested Reading, although the two other winners placed #2 on their respective Suggested Reading list. Why the SFWA would want to give so much information away is beyond me.

Once we know the correlation, I can make a common Chaos Horizon assumption (i.e. in the absence of better data, what happened last year is likely to happen again next year), and use that 2014 correlation to predict what will happen in 2015. I’m not claiming that this list is causal; I’ll discuss some possibilities below. What I will claim is that if the 2014 list predicted the Nebulas with 84% accuracy, you better take that into account for 2015!

So, let’s dig in. I’m interested in the Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story categories. The SFWA also gives a movie/TV award named the Bradbury and a Young Adult award named the Norton; those seem to work a little differently, so analyze them on your own.

What I’m going to do is see what correlation exists between the Top 6 works from the “Suggested Reading List” and the Nebula nominees. Simple language: do the works show up on both lists?

Table 1: Correlation Between Top 6 (and Ties) of the 2014 Nebula Suggested Reading List and the Eventual 2014 Nebula Nominees

Novel: 4 out of 6, 67.7%
Novella: 6 out of 6, 100%
Novelette: 5 out of 6, 83.3%
Short Story: 6 out of 7, 85.7%

Total: 21/25, 84%

If Chaos Horizon ever manages to be 84% accurate, I’m packing it in. Those are staggering correlation numbers. With only a few exceptions here and there, the top 6 works from the 2014 Suggested Reading List were the eventual Nebula nominees. Will the same happen in 2015? I wouldn’t bet against it.

In novel, our outlier with only 2/3 accuracy, the Top 3 books from the Top 10 list got nominated, and the lowest nominees were two books tied for #7. Here’s the 2015 Suggested Reading List, Novel category; the number at the start of the column is the number of recommendations.

32 Annihilation VanderMeer, Jeff FSG 2 / 2014 (nominee, winner)
23 Trial By Fire Gannon, Charles Baen 8 / 2014 (nominee)
22 The Goblin Emperor Addison, Katherine Tor 4 / 2014 (nominee)
19 Afterparty Gregory, Daryl Tor 4 / 2014
17 My Real Children Walton, Jo Tor 5 / 2014
16 Ancillary Sword Leckie, Ann Orbit 10 / 2014 (nominee)
15 Coming Home McDevitt, Jack Ace 11 / 2014 (nominee)
15 The Three-Body Problem Liu, Cixin Tor Books 11 / 2014 (nominee)
9 Lagoon Okorafor, Nnedi Hodder & Stou… 4 / 2014
8 American Craftsmen Doyle, Tom Tor 5 / 2014

Gregory got a Novella nomination for We Are All Completely Fine; perhaps people didn’t want to nominate him twice. I can’t account for why Walton didn’t make it, but the difference 15 and 17 votes is pretty small. The McDevitt and Liu also came out in November and maybe didn’t have enough time to pick up votes on this list.

Let’s not get too overwhelmed. Perhaps 2014 was an odd year, and there are normally greater differences? We’re also talking about some pretty fine numerical differences in categories like Short Story, where the difference between being in the Top 6 and outside that is 1 vote.

Nonetheless, based on 1 year of data, using the Suggested Reading List to predict the Nebulas seems very viable. It even seems to work to predict the winner: Annihilation easily won the Suggested Reading list and went on to the win the Nebula.

There are a couple explanations I can think of as to why these lists are so correlated:

1. The Suggested Reading list is Causal: Under this theory, you’d claim that the Suggested Reading List exerts such a gravitational force on the Nebulas that it essentially forms the final nominations, i.e. it works like a slate. Once you get the ball rolling on these recommendations, more people read those works, which leads to more recommendations, which leads to more votes, etc. While the suggested list isn’t 100% accurate, 84% is pretty substantial . This analysis would seemingly open the door to manipulation: i.e. if someone could logroll a specific author up into the Top 3 or 4, would they receive a nomination? I don’t know.

2. The Suggested Reading List Operates as an Accurate Poll: Perhaps we shouldn’t think of the list as causal, but more from a polling perspective. There were 372 total votes on the 2014 Novel list. Let’s say your average recommender recommended 3 books; that’s mostly a number I pulled out of the air, but does sync up with how many books the average Hugo voter nominates. I’m sure some people recommended 1, some people recommended 5 or 6. The average has got to be somewhere in the middle. Using an average of 3, that would mean around 124 people participated in building the Suggested Reading List. Is that substantial snapshot of who actually nominates? The SFWA says they have 1800 members, but how many vote in the Nebula nomination stage? Half? A quarter?

Let’s say it’s half (which I think is way too high), and that you accept my 124 number. That means the Suggested Reading list is effectively polling (124/900) = 13.7% of the eventual nominators. That’s a solid N. Now, since this isn’t a random poll and I had to estimate voting pools size, etc., we can’t calculate things like margin of error with any accuracy. This is also a self-selected poll (i.e. people choose to participate), and, as such, the most passionate voters will be participating.

But it may seem—based on one year’s data—that these suggesters have their finger on the pulse of the Nebula voters. Perhaps the 15% (or 25%, or 35%, whatever the actual number is) just accurately reflects how these voters think.

3. The Number of Nominators is Small: This is another interpretation you could put on these numbers. We’ve never known how many votes it takes to get a Nebula nomination, but maybe the numbers of voters from the Suggested List is all that it takes (or close to it). If you go back to 2012 with the Hugos (well before recent controversies/slates set in), it only took between 72-36 votes to grab a Short Story Hugo nomination. If the Nebulas have half as many voters as the Hugo (again, we don’t know), the 17-11 votes indicated by the Suggested Reading list may have been in the ballpark of what it takes to grab a nom.

We don’t need to know fully understand how the list impacts the Nebulas. In fact, Chaos Horizon is more interested in predicting what will happen than explaining why things happen. The Suggested List is published, and that data goes into the black box of the Nebula nominators minds. Something happens in there, then the list of nominees pops out. If the data in consistently matches the data out to the tune of 84%, who cares what happens in the black box?

What It All Means: We don’t need to know fully understand how the list impacts the Nebulas. In fact, Chaos Horizon is more interested in predicting what will happen than explaining why things happen. The Suggested List is published, and that data goes into the black box of the Nebula nominators minds. Something happens in there, then the list of nominees pops out. If the data in consistently matches the data out to the tune of 84%, who cares what happens in the black box?

For Chaos Horizon, it means that to predict the Nebulas, I should use the Suggested Reading List because it has an 84% success rate. Even if that drops to 75%, it’s still stellar.

So, we could take the 2015 suggestions and predict the eventual Nebula nominees right now. If we check out the total numbers of votes this year, we’re already at 337—not quite the 372 of last year, so I’d still expect some changing, particularly for works that came out late in the year (the Gannon and McDevitt would be prime examples of works I’d expect to rise). Making the list public, which will bring more scrutiny, might also change the way people vote.

Here’s the current Top 10 for the Novel:

20 Uprooted Novik, Naomi Del Rey 5 / 2015
17 The Grace of Kings Liu, Ken Saga Press 4 / 2015
16 Karen Memory Bear, Elizabeth Tor Books 2 / 2015
13 The Traitor Baru Cormorant Dickinson, Seth Tor Books 9 / 2015
11 Ancillary Mercy Leckie, Ann Orbit 10 / 2015
10 Updraft Wilde, Fran Tor Books 9 / 2015
9 Beasts of Tabat Rambo, Cat WordFire Press 4 / 2015
9 Last First Snow Gladstone, Max Tor Books 7 / 2015
9 The Fifth Season Jemisin, N. K. Orbit 8 / 2015
8 Sorcerer to the Crown Cho, Zen Ace

Updraft has more votes over in the Norton as YA novel (11), so that might eventually show up in that category, not this one. Cat Rambo is the current President of the SFWA, so there might be some conflict of interest issues in accepting a Nebula nomination. Given Jemisin’s prior Nebula nominations in this category, I’d give her the edge over Gladstone in making it into the Top 6. So that would make my current prediction:

Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

I suspect either Gannon or McDevitt has a strong chance to creep up into the Top 6 once the fans of those authors begin suggesting their works. I’d kick Dickinson out first, because I think Leckie and Jemisin will rise based on past Nebula performance.  Gannon had 22 votes last years and only has 2 votes this year. Don’t count out Bacigalupi who is tied for 10th with 8 votes, or Robinson at 15 with 6 votes; both have strong recent Nebula history. Strangely, The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu doesn’t show up on the list at all.

Last year, Annihilation was the clear winner of the Suggested Reading list and then won the Nebula. I’m not willing to crown Uprooted yet because Novik is only 3 votes ahead of Liu, but I think she’s still the clear favorite to win at this point.

The SFWA has been updating the list constantly. I’ll keep my eye on it, and see what we can learn. There’s lots of other analysis that could be run with this data (gender breakdowns, genre breakdowns, ethnic/race breakdowns, etc.) that would tell us a great deal about the Nebulas.

If the list above is the eventual Nebula nominees, or even 5/6 of them, the SFWA is going to have seriously consider whether or not they want to release so much info so early.

So, what do you think? Does this list give away too much information? Should the SFWA take it down? Or should we just be happy we have such good data?

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Final 2015 SFF Awards Meta-List

Now that the World Fantasy Award has been given, I’ve updated my Awards Meta-List to reflect the Top 20 SFF novels of the year. My list uses 15 different SFF Awards to see who dominated the year, using this limited methodology of awards. Of course, awards don’t reflect quality; they give us a certain slant on the SFF market, one which provides an interesting but flawed measure. The rules are simple: you get nominated for any of these awards, you get a point. Most points wins. No bonus for winning the award, although I’ll note the winners.

Edit 11/25/15: My 15 awards are the Clarke, the British Fantasy, the British SF, the Campbell Memorial Award (not the Campbell for Best New Author), the Locus Fantasy and SF categories (not the Best First Novel), the Compton, the Crawford, the Gemmell, the Hugo, the Kitschies, the Nebula, the Philip K. Dick, the Prometheus, the Tiptree, and the World Fantasy. You’ll notice that I’m currently not tracking the “Best First Novel” award categories or YA categories. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. The First Novel categories are valuable, but since such a wide range of novels aren’t eligible as first novels, I felt it distorted the results by over-counting those novels.

In my opinion, this provides a broad overview of the field. 15 different awards mean 15 different sets of rules and voters (some popular and huge, some small, and some by committee). If a book shows up time and time again through all that chaos, those are the consensus books of the year.

So how did 2015 turn out? There wasn’t a single dominant book, as was the case with Ancillary Justice in 2014 (7 nominations, 4 wins, with 2 additional nominations and wins in “First Novel” categories). This year, Cixin Liu did the best with 5 nominations, but he managed only 1 win. I suspect that if The Three-Body Problem came out earlier in the year (it was published in November), it would have done a little better. Leckie won twice for Ancillary Sword, and she was the only author to win two awards. Those wins, depending on how cynical you are, could be chalked up to last year’s success of Ancillary Justice.

Nothing else jumps out as a dominant book. If we can think all the way to 2017, Emmi Itaranta might be someone to keep an eye on. Memory of Water was the debut novel for this Finnish writer, and the 2017 WorldCon is in Helsinki, Finland . . .

Here’s the list. I’m listing everyone who got at least 2 nominations, which is conveniently exactly 20 novels. 64 different novels received at least one nomination. Obviously, there are lots of ties: 1 novel got 5 noms, 3 novels got 4 noms each, 7 novels got 3 noms each, and 9 novels got 2 nominations each.

If I had to describe the 2015 awards season, it would be with the term “divided.” There wasn’t much agreement as to what the major works were; we had lots of competitive novels rather than 2-3 consensus books. It’ll be interesting to see if the 2016 award play the same way. Between Uprooted, Seveneves, and Ancillary Mercy, we could wind up with a much more centralized year.

Here’s the final list, and the accompanying Excel file: 2015 Awards Meta-List.

1. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu: 5 nominations, 1 wins (Noms: Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, Locus SF, Prometheus; Wins: Hugo)
2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: 4 nominations, 2 wins (Noms: Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Locus SF, Wins: BSFA and Locus SF)
2. Annihilation/Area X, Jeff VanderMeer: 4 nominations, 1 win (Noms: Campbell, Nebula, Locus SF, World Fantasy; Win: Nebula)
2. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison: 4 nominations, 1 win (Noms: Hugo, Nebula, Locus Fantasy, World Fantasy; Win: Locus Fantasy)
5. Memory of Water, Emmi Itaranta: 3 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Clarke, Tiptree, Philip K. Dick)
5. Europe in Autumn, David Hutchinson: 3 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Clarke, BSFA, Campbell)
5. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North: 3 nominations, 1 win (Noms: Clarke, BSFA, Campbell, Win: Campbell)
5. Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor: 3 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: BSFA, Tiptree, Kitschies)
5. The Peripheral, William Gibson: 3 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Campbell, Locus SF, Kitschies)
5. The Race, Nina Allan: 3 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: British SF, Campbell, Kitschies)
5. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett: 3 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: British Fantasy, Locus Fantasy, World Fantasy)
12. Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett: 2 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Dick, Tiptree)
12. Station Eleven, Elizabeth St. John Mandel: 2 nominations, 1 win (Noms: Clarke, Campbell, Win: Clarke)
12. Lock In, John Scalz: 2 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Locus SF, Campbell)
12. The Bees, Laline Paul: 2 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Campbell, Compton)
12. A Darkling Sea, James Cambias: 2 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: Campbell, Compton)
12. My Real Children, Jo Walton: 2 nominations, 1 win (Noms: Tiptree, World Fantasy, Win: Tiptree)
12. Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge: 2 nominations, 1 win (Noms: British Fantasy, British SF, Win: British Fantasy)
12. Wolves, Simon Ings: 2 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: British SF, Campbell)
12. The Moon King, Neil Williamson: 2 nominations, 0 wins (Noms: British Fantasy, British SF)

We can close the page on 2015, and get ready for 2016!

Best of 2015: Publishers Weekly

It’s that time of year: Best of 2015 lists are going to come pouring in. Here at Chaos Horizon, I keep track of these and total up how often books show up on these lists. I did two meta-lists last year: one a mainstream list and one SFF critics list. I’m going to do that again for 2015; I’ll debut the full lists once I have 5 in each category.

The Goodreads Choice Awards, Amazon, and now Publishers Weekly have already posted their “Best of 2015” lists. It may seem too early, but most major SFF novels come out before November, so it’s actually not that unreasonable. Sure, a few late-in-the-year books will get missed, but these websites want clicks, and moving early helps cut through the crowd.

Publishers Weekly gives an annual top “Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror” list. Here it is:

Ghost Summer: Stories, Tananarive Due
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson

Two of those aren’t eligible for the Hugos/Nebulas: the Due is a story collection and The Red was originally published in 2013 and got a Nebula nomination in 2014. It was originally published by Mythic Island press (i.e. indie published), but has since been picked up and reissued by Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Good military-SF, but I’m not sure it belongs on a 2015 list. The Sorcerer of Wildeeps is refered to as a novella by Publishers Weekly. I can’t speak to that, as I don’t know the exact word count (40,000 is the cut off). I imagine this book might be competitive in the Novella category but not at all competitive in the Novel category.

I do think Uprooted is a good bet for both the Hugo and Nebula in 2016, and that The Fifth Season is a strong Nebula contender as well. Picking 2 awards contenders is actually better than this list has done in the past. Publishers Weekly has historically been an eccentric list, not lining up well with the Hugos or Nebulas at all. They managed not to pick a single Hugo/Nebula nominee in 2014 or 2013, which is quite a challenge! Of course, that’s not the point of their list, but it’s what I’m looking for here at Chaos Horizon.

It doesn’t look like any speculative novels made the “Fiction” category. A couple SFF novels show up in “Young Adult,” including Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper and Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown.

David Mitchell Wins 2015 World Fantasy Award

At long last, the 2015 awards season is over! Here are the World Fantasy Award winners.

The World Fantasy Award is the final award of 2014 . They certainly stretch it out long enough! The World Fantasy is probably the most “literary” of the SFF awards, having gone to books like Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, for instance. This year seems no different, as David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is a very literary take on the SFF genre.

Here are the other nominees:
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway; Jo Fletcher)
Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
My Real Children, Jo Walton (Tor; Corsair)

The World Fantasy has a habit of going to a book that hasn’t already won an award. That’s the advantage of being the-last-to-move award; you can see what the rest of the field has done and fill in the gaps.

David Mitchell’s hybrid realistic/fantasy/horror novel was highly acclaimed by literary critics last year. While there is some significant fantasy—and even near-future content—in the novel, it’s only briefly touched on in the first 400-500 pages of into the book. Until then, it reads as literary fiction with light surreal/horror touches. This might make it hard for some SFF fans to read, as well as the fact that Mitchell has taken to writing his books as series of linked novellas, changing characters every 75-100 pages (he did this in Cloud Atlas as well).

I thought The Bone Clocks was an exceptional novel, and my second favorite of last year (after The Three-Body Problem). I also really like Slade House, which just came out and is basically Bone Clocks in miniature. If you haven’t read any Mitchell, I’d suggested checking that book out as a low risk sampler.

With the World Fantasy Award finally given, I can update and finalize my Award Meta-List. Then we can put a bow on 2014 (the most controversial in awards history?) and move on to 2015!

2015 Goodreads Choice Awards Now Open for Voting

Where did the year go? The Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 are now open for opening round voting!

This is one of our earliest looks at a “Best Books of 2015” list. Goodreads chooses 15 books and leaves a write-in spot. They then put up 20 choices for the next round of voting. Since that is such a broad list, and we have at least 3-4 categories that overlap with the Hugos/Nebulas in some capacity (Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and YA SF+F), it’s a pretty safe bet that the eventual Hugo/Nebula winner will show up on this list in some capacity.

Goodreads is also run by a huge internet vote, so if you wonder why kind of SFF books would win under those rules, here’s your chance.

A couple notes:
SF: Aurora by Kim Stanely Robinson doesn’t make the initial 15, but Ancillary Mercy, Seveneves, The Dark Forest, The End of all Things, and Nemesis Games are all there.
Fantasy: This list continues to be an awkward mix of Urban Fantasy and Fantasy novels. I’m not sure those audiences are the same, and we’d probably be better off with two lists. The big snub here is Uprooted, which incomprehensibly shows up on the YA list, not this one. Jemisin, Gaiman, Schwab, Sanderson, and Butcher all show up here. Other snubs include the more experimental fantasy novels of the year, including Grace of Kings, Sorcerer to the Crown, and The Traitor Baru Cormorant.
Horror: I’m not seeing a lot of Hugo/Nebula crossover potential from this year’s Horror list.
YA SF+F: Like I said, Uprooted is to be found here. Weirdly, Golden Son isn’t here, but over in the Adult SF category. Who knows how they make these decisions.

It doesn’t look to my eye that anyone from the Fiction category has speculative elements.

This is just the opening salvo in the rush of year end lists—they’ll be everywhere in the next month or two, and Chaos Horizon will do it’s best to keep on top of them.

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