2016 Hugo Prediction

Let’s me finalize my 2016 Hugo Best Novel Prediction:

  1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  3. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
  4. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
  5. The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Remember, Chaos Horizon doesn’t predict what I want to happen, but rather what I think will happen based on my analysis and understanding of past Hugo trends.

First off, those past trends have been shot full of holes in recent years. The Puppy controversies have fundamentally transformed the voting pool of the Hugos, meaning that past trends might not apply given how widely the voters have changed. New voters have come in with the Puppies; new voters have come in to contest the Puppies; some of those voters might have stayed, some might have dropped out. Some voters are voting No Award out principle; some aren’t. How exactly you balance all of that is going to be largely speculative, maybe to the point that no predictions are meaningful. That’s why we’re called “Chaos Horizon” here!

However, I think the potential Kingmaker effect, when combined with past Hugo trends and the popularity of Uprooted, makes Novik a reasonable favorite. Novik has already won the Nebula and the Locus Fantasy (beating Jemisin twice); her book is a stand-alone, making it feel more complete than either the Jemisin, Leckie, or Butcher; and Novik, along with Stephenson, is more popular than the other nominees. In the past, these have all been characteristics of the Hugo winner.

In the past few years, I’ve developed a mathematical formula to help me predict the Hugos. The formula won’t be accurate this year because of the Rabid Puppy voters, but here’s what it came up with:

Uprooted 27.1%
Ancillary Mercy 20.5%
Seveneves 20.0%
The Fifth Season 17.1%
The Cinder Spires 15.3%

The formula obviously doesn’t take pro or anti-Puppy sentiment into account. Uprooted is a big favorite because of her Nebula win this year. The Nebula has been the best predictor of the Hugo in the last decade: in 5 of the last 10 years, the Nebula winner has gone on to win the Hugo. The stats are actually better than that. In the 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2015, the Nebula winner was not even nominated for the Hugo. So the only time a Nebula winner has lost the Hugo in the final voting round was when Redshirts beat 2312 in 2013. So the last 5/6 times when the Nebula winner had a chance to win the Hugo, it did. Those are nice odds.

My formula is not designed to accurately predict second place. With that in mind, I think Jemisin is too low. Leckie won too recently with Ancillary Justice to seem to have a chance to win again, and Seveneves is pretty divisive. One reason my formula fails is because it currently doesn’t punish books for being sequels. Leckie should be lower for that reason. It’s something I’ll factor in next year. Stephenson will be lower because some people will vote him “No Award” for appearing on the Rabid Puppy list. So this pushes Jemisin up two spots.

However, Jemisin is lower down in the formula because she doesn’t have a history of winning major awards, unlike Stephenson and Leckie. Check out Jemisin’s sfadb page. She’s been nominated for 12 major awards and hasn’t won any. Not good odds. That’s what my formula is picking up on. My formula has trouble gauging changes in sentiment. I think most readers believe The Fifth Season is better than Jemisin’s earlier works, but I have trouble quantifying that.

What my numbers give is a percentage to win based on the patterns of past Hugo votes, based on my analysis and combination of those formulas using a Linear Opinion Pool prediction model. Prediction is different than statistical analysis: different statisticians would build different models based on different assumptions. You should never treat a prediction (either on Chaos Horizon or in something like American elections) the same way you would treat a statistical analysis; they are guided by different logical methods. Someone who disagrees with one of my assumptions would come up with a different prediction. Fair enough. This is all just for fun! You can trace back through the model using some of these posts: Hugo Indicators, and my series of Nebula model posts beginning here. The Hugo model uses the same math but different data.

Let’s look at this with some other data. Here’s the head to head popularity comparison of our five Hugo finalists, based on the number of ratings at Goodreads and Amazon.

Goodreads Amazon
Uprooted 41,174 1,332
Seveneves 35,428 2,487
The Aeronaut’s Windlass 18,249 1,285
Ancillary Mercy 11,698 247
The Fifth Season 7,676 184

These aren’t perfect samples, as neither Goodreads nor Amazon is 100% reflective of the Hugo voting audience, nor has the Hugo Awards always correlated with popularity. Still, it gives us another interesting perspective.

Jemisin does not break out of the bubble in ways that Novik and Stephenson do. These aren’t small differences, either: Uprooted is 5x more popular on Goodreads and 7x on Amazon than The Fifth Season. I put stock in that—the more people read your book, the more there are to vote for it. While the Hugo voting audience is a subset of all readers, popularity matters.

Two other notes: it’s fascinating how different Amazon and Goodreads are. Novik outpaces Stephenson on Goodreads but gets crushed on Amazon. Different audiences, different reading habits. The question for Chaos Horizon is which one better correlates with the Hugo winner? Second, Butcher may be a very popular Urban Fantasy writer with Dresden, but he’s only a moderately popular Fantasy writer.

So, all told, Novik has big advantages in popularity and same year awards (having won the Nebula already). Neither Jemisin, Leckie, or Stephenson managed to do better than Novik in critical acclaim or award nominations. Stephenson and Leckie do beat Novik in past awards history. When we factor in the possible Kingmaker effect from the Rabid Puppies, Novik is a clear favorite.

It would take a lot of change in the voting pool to overcome Novik’s seeming advantages. I wouldn’t count it out completely—these past two years have been so volatile that anything can happen.

Last question—where will No Award place? Last year, voters chose to place Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson below No Award, likely as punishment for appearing on the Puppy slates. Will it happen again this year? I have a hard time seeing Stephenson getting No Awarded, Puppy appearance or not. He’s been a well-liked Hugo writer for a long time, and he may well have scored a nomination without Puppy help. I think Stephenson will beat No Award.

That leaves Butcher. He was No Awarded in 2015 by 2674 to 2000 votes, so a No Award margin of 674. That’s a pretty substantial number. If we go back to 2014, when Larry Correia’s Warbound was the first Puppy pick to make it to the Best Novel category, he beat No Award by a 1161 to 1052 margin. So that means the “No Awarders” are picking up steam. At Chaos Horizon, I go with the past year’s results to predict the future unless there’s some compelling data to suggest otherwise. So I’ll predict that Butcher will lose to No Award in 2016 just as he did in 2015.

So, what do you think? Are we in for a Best Novel surprise, or will Novik walk away with the crown?

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