2016 Nebula Prediction 1.0
Well, it’s the new year, so time to roll up our sleeves and get started. Let’s begin with my first 2016 Nebula prediction. Remember, I try to predict what will happen, based on past evidence and patterns in the Nebulas and various lists and data from this year, rather than what should happen. These are my opinions, so they have no particularly authority, and I always think Chaos Horizon is best used in conjunction with other opinions and websites on the internet.
Predicting the Nebulas this year was made much easier since the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the group that administers the Nebulas, made their “Recommended Reading List” public. Remember, the Nebulas are a vote of SFWA members; by making their recommendations public, we get a good idea of the direction these awards are leaning. Last year, the final Recommended List correctly predicted 4/6 of the final nominees (the other two nominees were in spots #7 and #8). Since Chaos Horizon always uses the past year as a guide for the next year’s prediction, I predict something similar will happen this year.
If you look at the SFWA list as of right now (January 1), we can see that the top of the list is too heavily slanted towards Fantasy when compared to Nebula history. 5 of the top 6 are Fantasy novels (Leckie being the only SF), as are 8 of the top 10. I suspect one or two of the SF novels will creep up the list over time. Right now, I’m looking at a gang of four: either a novel by a past Nebula winner (Aurora by Kim Stanely Robinson (tied #11) or The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (also tied at #11)), Thunderbird by perennial Nebula favorite Jack McDevitt, or Raising Caine by Charles Gannon, #3 in a series that garnered Nebula noms in 2013 and 2014. One or two of these books making the final ballot would create a more balance Fantasy/SF ratio.
The Nebulas nominate 6 novels in the category.
Here’s my initial prediction, as of January 1, 2016:
1. Uprooted, Naomi Novik: Novik has almost every metric going for her: good sales, good placement on year-end lists, strong fan response. She has no Nebula history (0 nominations), although she did a grab a Hugo best novel nomination back in 2007 for Temeraire. I’ve got this #1 because I see it as the “buzziest” book of the year; it’s also #1 on the SFWA recommendations. Why second-guess the data?
2. Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie: Leckie is coming off of two straight Nebula nominations for this series, including her win for Ancillary Justice in 2014. I don’t expect anything to change this year; the final volume was well-received as a fitting conclusion to this trilogy. As of January 1, 2016, she’s #6 on the SFWA recommended list.
3. Grace of Kings, Ken Liu: Liu has been a recent Nebula darling : 7 short fiction nominations since 2012. This is his first novel, and since the Nebula audience is already very familiar with his short fiction from prior nominations, that brings a lot of eyeballs to the text. In Chaos Horizon predictions, eyeballs = possible voters. It’s also #2 on the SFWA Nebula recommendations list, and he scored a Best Novel nomination last year for translating Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem.
4. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin: Jemisin has three prior best novel Nebula noms in 2011, 2012, and 2013, which is every year she’s been eligible for the novel category (she’s published 5 novels, but some years she published more than one novel). She’s at 8th on the recommended list, but with that strong Nebula history, I think she’s a good bet for a nomination this year.
5. Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson has been a perennial Nebula favorite (12 total nominations, 3 wins, including Best Novel wins for 2312 in 2013 and Red Mars back in 1994). Even though he’s tied #14 on the SFWA list, this is a kind of Hard SF novel that appeals to the SF wing of the Nebulas; that group has always had enough votes to put 1-2 books on every Nebula ballot.
6. Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear: I’m less certain about the Bear. Her high placement on the SFWA list (#3), as well as the generally positive reception of the book, would seem to place her in good stead. In the negative column, she has 0 total Nebula nominations ever, and Karen Memory doesn’t perform particularly well in popularity metrics. The 19th century steampunk setting might be a challenge for some voters as well. I think any of the texts from 4-10 in my list has a real chance of making it this year.
7. Thunderbird, Jack McDevitt: The first rule of Nebula prognostication: you never count Jack McDevitt out. 12 Best Novel Nebula nominations, including 9 out of the past 12 years! This book is from one of his less popular series, and it came out very late in the year (December 1, 2015); otherwise, I’d have him higher.
8. The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi: If Aurora doesn’t make it, this book is the other logical choice for a SF novel from a recent winner. Bacigalupi roared to huge Nebula and Hugo success with The Windup Girl back in 2010, and this is his first proper “adult” SF novel since then. 5 years is an eternity in these awards—has his popularity cooled off? Or will he return to the ranks of the nominees?
9. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson: This placed #5 on the SFWA recommended list, so why do I have it so low? Genre, genre, genre: I can’t predict a Nebula with 5 or 6 fantasy novels in it, and I think Dickinson has to be slotted behind the other more obvious fantasy contenders. Keep an eye to see if this picks up steam in January.
10. Raising Caine, Charles Gannon: I place a lot of stock in Gannon’s two previous nominations in 2014 and 2015 for books from this series. He’s currently only at 4 votes in the SFWA list (versus 23 last year). Is this an indication of poor reception of Raising Caine or am I looking at the list too early? If that number increases, expect him to rise in my prediction.
11. Updraft, Fran Wilde: Currently #4 on the SFWA list, I think this is more likely to get a nomination in the Andre Norton (the Young Adult category, where it sits at #1 in the recommendations). While nothing prevents a novel from getting both a Nebula and a Norton nomination, I don’t see nominators voting for the same book in 2 different categories.
12. The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu: You’d think the sequel to last year’s Hugo winner and Nebula nominee would be higher in the recommended list, but The Dark Forest currently doesn’t make the SFWA recommended list at all. I don’t know how to explain that (maybe Ken Liu, who translated The Three-Body Problem but not this volume, was the name that brought the Nebula voters?), but you got to go by the stats. Last year’s Hugo win and Nebula nom should at least keep it in the mix.
13.Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Lawrence Schoen: The surprise of this list, this places an impressive 7th on the SFWA list. This just came out December 29th, 2015; I think that’s too late for a Nebula book to pick up steam with the rest of the SFWA voters that don’t have access to early copies.
14. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson: You’d think Stephenson would be neck-and-neck with the Robinson and Bacigalupi, but the Nebulas have never liked Stephenson much. He only has 1 nomination back in 1997 for Diamond Age and zero wins. If the Nebulas ignored Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Anathem, why would you predict this? It’s tied for #16 on the current recommendations.
15. Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho: If one of the fantasy novels higher on the list falters, Cho’s book could stand poised to take it’s place. Somewhat similar in setting to the well-liked Hugo/Nebula winning Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, this seems to hit some marks that previous Nebula voters have liked.
So, there’s my initial Top #15 Nebula list! Remember, this is a starting place, not the finishing place, and these awards can be very dynamic between January-February, with lots of shifts as books pick up steam. So, what do you think? Did I miss any obvious contenders? Thinks someone should be higher or lower? Argue away in the comments, and happy predicting!