2016 Nebula Prediction 2.0

Time to finalize my 2016 Nebula Best Novel prediction.

This year, it’s the most boring and conservative prediction I’ve ever come up with. To catch those of you up who aren’t familiar with the prior discussions on Chaos Horizon: the SFWA made their Recommended Reading list available this year. After close analysis, it appears that this Recommended Reading list is closely (to the tune of 80%) aligned with the final Nebula nominations. Since Chaos Horizon tries to be a data-driven site, using past Nebula and Hugo patterns for its future predictions, we’re not going to find any better data than that.

As such, my prediction needs to mirror the top of the SFWA recommended reading list. Like I said, that’s boring and safe, but it is what it is. Here’s the Top 10 from the SFWA Recommended Reading list, as of 2/18/16:

35
Barsk: The Elephants’ G… Schoen, Lawrence M. Tor Books Dec-15
33 Raising Caine Gannon, Charles E. Baen Jul-15
29 Updraft Wilde, Fran Tor Books Sep-15
24 Uprooted Novik, Naomi Del Rey May-15
22 The Grace of Kings Liu, Ken Saga Press Apr-15
21 Ancillary Mercy Leckie, Ann Orbit Oct-15
19 The Fifth Season Jemisin, N. K. Orbit Aug-15
18 Beasts of Tabat Rambo, Cat WordFire Press Apr-15
18 Karen Memory Bear, Elizabeth Tor Books Feb-15
18
The Traitor Baru Cormorant Dickinson, Seth Tor Books Sep-15

There’s no reason to expect that the Nebula Best Novel nominations will look any different from the top of this list. We may see one novel from lower down like The Fifth Season jump up into the top six; that has happened in the past. The Fifth Season is particularly compelling due to Jemisin’s three prior Best Novel Nebula nominations. I place a lot of stock in former nominations. But who would she replace? Leckie, who won two years ago and whose Ancillary series is one of the most critically acclaimed works of the decade? Ken Liu, who has 7 prior Nebula nominations for his short fiction? Uprooted, one of the most read and talked about fantasy novels of the year? Wilde, Gannon, and Schoen, all of whom have a large vote lead? I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jemisin make it, but I’d be suprirsed to see anyone else leap up.

So, here’s my prediction. These are in the order of who I think is most likely to get nominated, not who I think is most likely to win. Also, I predict who I think will get nominations, not who should get nominations. I’ll grind through my winning prediction after we get the nominees:

1. Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Lawrence Schoen: The absolute surprise of the SFWA Recommended Reading list, this SF novel about a post-human future came out at the very end of the year, too late too make any of the “year’s best lists.” Schoen does have 3 prior Nebula nominations (0 wins) in the Novella category over the past three years, so that familiarity helped him roar up the list. The Nebula has a history of helping push ignored novels in the past, and this seems to be another example of that. It’s still lightly read, at least according to Amazon and Goodreads; a Nebula nomiation would bring it a lot of attention. If Barsk gets nominated, that will also give us some great data about how much a Nebula nomination impacts the Hugos.

2. Raising Caine, Charles Gannon: Gannon has become a favorite of the Nebulas (the new McDevitt?), with two prior Best Novel nominations for this same series. Raising Caine mixes it up, giving us a contact/strange planet story. It’s length (almost 800 pages) and place in a series (#3) would normally be strikes against getting a Nebula nom, but with such a high placement on the SFWA list, Gannon seems like a safe bet again.

3. Updraft, Fran Wilde: Wilde’s book hovers (I couldn’t resist the bad pun) in the territory between YA and Adult, and may grab a Norton (the Nebula’s YA category) nomination this year as well. If it does, this might signal a shift for the Nebulas, with a willingness to nominate more YA books not by Neil Gaiman. Wilde would be new to the Nebulas, having 0 prior nominations.

4. 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. Novik was at the top of the SFWA Recommended Reading list when it debuted, but she hasn’t picked up much steam sense. Still, I think this is a safe bet and a strong contender to win the Nebula.

5. 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. Ken also scored a Best Novel nomination last year for translating Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem.

6. 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. Could there be a little Leckie fatigue though: after so many awards over the past 2 years, could Nebula voters want to nominate someone else?

7. 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). If anyone can outperform their place on the list, I think it’s Jemisin.

At this point, let me break from the SFWA list and include some possible strong competitors from lower down:

8. Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear: Bear seems like a possible contender with her unique setting and decent placement on the SFWA list. 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.

9. 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 #15 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 in recent years. If anyone dramatically outperforms their SFWA list placement, it could be Robinson.

10. 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?

Everyone else seems unlikely. Cixin Liu got a nomination last year, but The Dark Forest is way down the list at #15. Maybe a book like The Traitor Baru Cormorant or The House of Shattered Wings has some buzz I’m not seeing, so those might be possibilities. Cat Rambo could grab support for Beasts of Tabat, but her position as SFWA President would seem to be a significant conflict of interest in taking a nomination. Laura Anne Gilman did get a Nebula Best Novel nomination back in 2010, so Silver on the Road is a possibility. The Nebulas have only ever nominated Stephenson once, back in 1994, so I don’t see Seveneves as having any real chance. It’s probably best never to count McDevitt completely out, but Thunderbird didn’t do well on the list this year.

There’s also an outside possibility that the SFWA Recommended Reading list won’t be predictive this year. Maybe making it public changed the dynamic so much that it’s no longer accurate. We won’t know that until the noms come out, though.

The fun thing about predicting is that we’ll know the answers soon. Nebula nominations should be announced shortly. Then it’s on to the Hugos: controversy ahoy!

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4 responses to “2016 Nebula Prediction 2.0”

  1. MadProfessah says :

    Can someone explain the love for Charles Gannon’s Caine trilogy? It’s sort of diverting but is it one of the five best works of speculative fiction of the year?? I doubt it.

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