Checking Back in with the SFWA Recommended Reading List

The 2016 Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards circus is heating up. We’re probably about 3 weeks away from having this year’s Nebula nominations announced. Let’s check back in with the SFWA Recommended Reading list to see who’s likely to get a Nebula nomination.

Having access to the SFWA Recommended Reading list has been extremely helpful in predicting the Nebulas this year, so much so that it basically overwhelms all other data that we might have. If we have good data, Chaos Horizon will use it; I’d rather be correct than interesting or edgy.

I’ve been keeping track of the SFWA list to see which books are heating up, and it’s intriguing to see who the breakthroughs are. Let’s take a look at a chart comparing the recommendation totals from the end of November to the first of February. The SFWA list is constantly updating, so my chart may be outdated as soon as I put it up. I pulled the numbers down by cutting and pasting the data myself:

Table 1: Number of Recommendations on the SFWA 2015 Recommended Reading List

SFWA Data Feb 2016.png

What does this tell us? That Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk has emerged as a major Nebula contender, despite being lightly read (as of January 30th, this only has 93 ratings on Goodreads, 31 on Amazon, much much lower than other Nebula/Hugo contenders). That’s due in part to Schoen’s late publication date: the novel came out on December 29, 2015. That’s a tough time to come out, as you get lost in the post-Christmas malaise. A Nebula nomination would drive a lot of attention to this book. Schoen now seems like a very good bet for the Nebula, particularly when we factor in that he received Nebula nominations in the Best Novella category in 2013, 2014, and 2015. There’s clearly a subset of Nebula voters that really like Schoen’s work; a Best Novel nomination might be a spark that gets him more read by the rest of us.

I initially thought that Fran Wilde’s Updraft would grab a Norton nomination, the SFWA’s Young Adult category, but not a Nebula, on the logic that voters won’t want to nominate the same book twice on the same ballot. Wilde’s strong showing in the recommended reading list means I’m abandoning that logic; I now think she’ll pull the rare double of receiving both a Nebula and a Norton nomination. Giving the rising interest in YA fiction over the past 10 years, this might be a foreshadowing of things to come.

Lastly, Gannon is leaping up the list impressively. Gannon is coming off 2 straight Nebula nominations for books in this series; if he had enough support in previous years, why wouldn’t he have enough support this year? In 2015, Trial by Fire wound up with 23 recommendations and the #2 spot on the SFWA list on its way to a nomination. 19 is most of the way there. Gannon may be the new McDevitt: expect another nom.

If I were predicting the Nebula today, here’s what I would go with, in order of how confident I am of them getting a nomination:

1. Uprooted, Naomi Novik
2. Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
3. Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen
4. Raising Caine, Charles Gannon
5. Updraft, Fran Wilde
6. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

with Grace of Kings by Ken Liu at #7 and Karen Memory at #8. I have Jemisin ahead of both Liu and Bear based on her prior history in this category, although an argument that Liu also has a strong Nebula history would be pretty compelling. I’ll probably wait until the Nebula nomination period closes on February 15th to update my official prediction. Best to wait and see if any other books start picking up votes. There’s still 15 days left!

What do you think? Is Barsk now the Nebula favorite?

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