Best of 2015: Debuting the Mainstream Meta-List

Now that my semester is over and my final grades are turned in, I can focus my attention on predicting the 2016 Hugo and Nebula awards. As a step towards that, I’ve been putting together collated lists of the “Best of 2015” posts from a variety of sources. Last year, I broke these down into two categories: a mainstream list (NY Times, Amazon, Goodreads, etc.) and a SFF Critics list (Locus, SF Signal, Book Smugglers, etc.). When combined with the 2015 Awards Meta-List, these three lists provide a very interesting take on what the best SFF novel of the year was. Each is idiosyncratic in its own way and are best used in concert rather than alone.

I’m going to debut the 2015 Mainstream list today. Last year, I collated 20 lists from a variety of popular sources. Appear on the list, get 1 point. Most points wins. Here’s last year’s top 5:

1. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: on 13 lists
2. The Martian, Andy Weir: on 10 lists
3. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: on 9 lists
3. The Peripheral, William Gibson: on 9 lists
3. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman: on 9 list

Annihilation won the Nebula, and The Bone Clocks won the World Fantasy Award. So not too shabby for the mainstream! The lists I collect are very different: some are popular votes (Goodreads); some are marketing tools (Amazon). Some are short, some are ridiculously long (NPR). Some include graphic novels, collections, and books that aren’t eligible. I don’t make distinctions; I just list everything and figure that the sheer number of lists will balance everything out. I don’t include lists that are specifically Young Adult / Children’s / Graphic Novels, as my goal is to try to predict the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel categories. Historically, Young Adult works have not been nominated for those awards, although there are a few exceptions.

This year, in an effort to be more transparent, I’m going to use a Google Docs document that anyone can access at anytime. Only I can edit it though (of course, you can just cut and paste the data and then do what you want with it). So, if you don’t want to read on, you can just go look at the list right now. This way, I can update the list immediately and you can check where things stand at this moment.

We’re still early in the year. So far, I’ve collected Amazon’s Best of 2015, The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, the Goodreads Choice Awards (Fantasy and SF categories), The Guardian, Buzzfeed, NPR’s Book Concierge, the NY Times Notable books, and Publisher’s Weekly. Links to all those sources are in the spreadsheet.

Here are the too-early results:

5 points: The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.
5 points: Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal
5 points: Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Ann
4 points: The Water Knife, Bacagulupi, Paolo
4 points: Golden Son, Brown, Pierce
4 points: Aurora, Robinson, Kim Stanley
3 points: Uprooted, Novik, Naomi
3 points: The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Dickinson, Seth

Not particularly surprising. We knew that past Hugo winners Leckie, Stephenson, Bacigalupi, and Robinson all published well-liked novels this year. Uprooted would be 1 point higher if Goodreads hadn’t strangely put her novel on their YA list. Jemisin running neck and neck with Leckie and Stephenson is impressive, and I expect at least a Nebula nomination to be very likely for The Fifth Season.

The real surprise here is Golden Son. The first volume in that series, Red Rising, was marketed more as a YA novel in the vein of The Hunger Games. Golden Son is being hailed as an improvement in every way, and now seems to be in the adult rather than YA category. It will be interesting to see if this book can develop into a viable Hugo contender.

Unlike last year, where The Bone Clocks, Station Eleven, and Annihilation where highly esteemed by the literary mainstream, we don’t necessarily have a breakout “literary” SFF book. All the authors I listed above are more associated with speculative than literary fiction. The Entertainment Weekly Top 10 list had 0 speculative works after 3 last year (unless you count the Zebulon Finch by Daniel Krauss; anyone read this?); the NY Times Top 50 novels only had 2, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Michel Houellecbecq’s The Submission.

As I said above, we’re still early in the year for best-of lists, but patterns are beginning to emerge. Will the mainstream list be mirrored when the Nebulas and the Hugos roll around? Contrast this list with the SFWA Nebula recommended list, and we already see some interesting points of overlap. If you know of a good list I should add to the data, let me know in the comments.

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3 responses to “Best of 2015: Debuting the Mainstream Meta-List”

  1. MadProfessah says :

    Yeah the usual suspects seems to be showing up on these best of lists. I have only read Seveneves and Aurora but I do plan on reading The Fifth Season and Ancillary Mercy. I have no intention reading Novik;s book (could not ABIDE the Temeraire books) but I think I will give The Water Knife a try.

  2. H.P. says :

    I was pretty meh about the Temeraire books after the first three but remain highly intrigued by Uprooted.

    I’m reading Seveneves now. It has some massive pacing, etc. issues but I can’t stop thinking about it.

    I was so disappointed by the second Ancillary book I probably won’t read the third unless it picks up another Hugo nomination.

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