Even More SFWA Recommended Reading List Analysis

In a great find on the last Chaos Horizon SFWA thread, one of the commenters noted that you can access earlier years of the SFWA Recommended Reading list by changing the URL. Data goes back to 2011, which gives us three additional years to analyze. Previously, I’d been relying only on the 2014 data to see a correlation between this list and the eventual Nebula nominees.

You can check out the lists by going to this page and changing the year. I’m most interested in whether or not there’s a correlation between the recommendations and the eventual nominees/winners of the Best Novel category, so let’s take a look at the Top 10. Eventual Nebula winners are in red; eventual Nebula nominees are in green. I also included the number of recommendations for each book. Remember, the Nebula nominates 6 works unless there are ties, and then it can nominate more (it nominated 8 in 2014, for instance).

Table #1: The Top 10 From the SFWA Recommended Reading List, 2014-2011

Historical SFWA Data.png

You can always click to make that chart bigger, but I think the colors tell the story. That’s a lot of green at the top of the chart and a lot of red at the very top.

3/4 times, the top vote getter from the Recommended List went on to win the Nebula. Schoen must be dancing right now for Barsk, which topped the 2015 list with 35 votes (Gannon did get 33, and Wilde 29, so Schoen shouldn’t start celebrating yet). The only exception to this rule was Kim Stanley Robinson in 2012. Maybe KSR, who had 11 prior Nebula nominations and 2 prior wins, was just so much better known to the voting audience than his fellow nominees, although that’s just speculation. That KSR win from the #4 spot does stand out as a real outlier to the other years.

The Top 6 recommended works got nominated 19/24 times, for a staggering 79.1% nomination rate. If you’re predicting the Nebulas, are you going to find any better correlation than this? Just pick the top 6, and bask in your 80% success rate. Even in the worst year of the past 4, you’d have gotten 67% right. For the record, 80% is better than Chaos Horizon has ever done, or I ever really hope to do. :(. Maybe the SFWA is trying to put Chaos Horizon out of business.

We’ve got one anomaly in 2012 that I can’t account for. Mary Robinson Kowal’s Glamour in Glass was nominated for a Nebula that year, and yet it appears nowhere (not even 1 vote!) on the 2012 Recommended Reading list. Before you start sharpening your Nebula conspiracy knives, I wonder if Kowal, who was SFWA Vice-President, asked to not appear on this list? This is also the year of John Scalzi’s Redshirts, and, according to him, he turned down a Nebula nomination that year because he was SFWA President. Check this thread, and search for “Redshirts” in the comments. Note that Redshirts doesn’t show up on the 2012 recommendations either. I find it hard to believe Scalzi and Kowal garnered enough support in 2012 to grab nominations without receiving a single recommendation on this list, but what do I know?

Other than the Kowal oddity, all the eventual Nebula nominees have all come from the Top 8 of the Recommended Reading list. There doesn’t see to be much rhyme or reason why works in the #7 or #8 spot overperform their position. We do have a number of SF novels that got elevated (McDevitt, Liu, Mieville), but we also have Caitlin Kiernan’s horror/weird novel The Drowning Girl beating out Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy novel Range of Ghosts. We may only be talking a couple votes when we get to these spots, so it’s probably best not to take too much stock in them. I guess if there’s a toss up between a SF novel and a F or Horror novel, go with the SF if you’re predicting.

Other items of interest: we’ve seen a sharp increase of votes over the past two years, almost doubling the numbers in 2014 and 2015 from 2013, 2012, and 2011. Has the intesnse scrutiny on the Nebula and Hugos kicked the SFWA voters into gear? Are more people aware of this list, and its possible impact on the Nebulas?

Anything else we can learn from this list? For those of you interested in short fiction, you can change the year to access past data for the Short Story, Novelette, and Novella categories. Happy analyzing!

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3 responses to “Even More SFWA Recommended Reading List Analysis”

  1. NH says :

    Surely the difference in 2012 is that the novel that topped the recommendations was not already widely read and acclaimed? (I mean, Ironskin got decent reviews, but nothing like the buzz of Ancillary Justice, Annihilation, or Among Others.) The winner in 2012 was “the widely-acclaimed science fiction novel with the most recommendations.”

    So that’s a reason to be sceptical of Barsk, and maybe Raising Caine and Updraft as well. The catch is that there isn’t a widely-acclaimed SF novel high enough on the rec list to look like a plausible candidate — maybe that swings things back to Barsk and Caine, or maybe it boosts Novik and Liu. I have a hard time believing Liu’s chances are as low as the rec list suggests.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Good points and certainly very plausible. I think once we get the nominations it’ll be a whole new ball game in terms of who wins—I’d still have Novik over Schoen/Gannon/Wilde in an early prediction.

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