Final Best of 2015 Mainstream Meta-List

It’s Spring Break for me, so I’ve got a chance to wrap up some of my “lists of lists.” The first we’ll look at is my Best of 2015 Mainstream Meta-List. This list collates 20+ “Best of 2015” lists by mainstream outlets such as the NY Times, Amazon, Goodreads, Entertainment Weekly, and so on.

The collation works in a simple fashion: appear on a list, get 1 point. I then add up the points from all 20 lists. Results are below. I tried to use the same sources as last year so we can meaningful year-to-year comparisons. Here’s what I said last year about why I stopped at 20 lists:

I’m stopping at 20 for a couple reasons. First, this is a sample, not a comprehensive study. Second, I don’t think I’m adding much new information: each new “Best of List” is repeating the same books over and over again, so I think we’ve triangulated into what the mainstream believes are the best SFF books of the year. Lastly, I’ve got other things to look at—I don’t want to spend too much time getting caught up with what the mainstream thinks.

These mainstream websites tend to be very mainstream (duh) in their tastes. They don’t dip very deeply into SFF waters, often choosing the biggest names and buzziest books. So this list gives us a very incomplete picture of who might win the Nebula or Hugo. Last year, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks won and didn’t even manage a Hugo or Nebula nomination. Our eventual Nebula winner was #3 (Annihilation), and the Hugo winner (The Three-Body Problem) didn’t make the Top 20. What this list does, though, is give us a picture of what Science Fiction & Fantasy works broke through into mainstream culture.

So here’s the top of the list, with all works that received at least 3 votes. The whole list is available at this link.

1. The Water Knife, Bacagulupi, Paolo: on 7 lists
1. The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.: on 7 lists
1. Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal: on 7 lists
4. Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Ann: on 6 lists
4. Aurora, Robinson, Kim Stanley: on 6 lists
6. Golden Son, Brown, Pierce: on 5 lists
6. The Buried Giant, Ishiguro, Kazuo: on 5 lists
8. Three Moments of an Explosion, Mieville, China: on 4 lists
8. Slade House, Mitchell, David: on 4 lists
8. Uprooted, Novik, Naomi: on 4 lists
10. The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Butcher, Jim: on 3 lists
10. Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho, Zen: on 3 lists
10. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Dickinson, Seth: on 3 lists
10. Get in Trouble, Link, Kelly: on 3 lists
10. The Dark Forest, Liu, Cixin: on 3 lists
10. The Shepherd’s Crown, Pratchett, Terry: on 3 lists

What do we learn? From the point of view of mainstream outlets, there was no breakthrough SFF novel in 2015. Compare that to 2014, where two novels appeared on more than 10 lists:

1. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: on 13 lists
2. The Martian, Andy Weir: on 10 lists

What we have this year is a lot of works essentially tied. It’s no surprise to see Bacagalupi, Stephenson, Leckie, and Robinson at the top of the list. Those are some of the obvious choices for mainstream critics who don’t know that much about SF. Jemisin had a very good year with The Fifth Season, getting more mainstream acclaim than ever before. That might bode well for her Hugo chances. Remember, she’s already grabbed a Nebula nom.

Ishiguro and Mitchell are your standard literary interlopers. Golden Son did very well and Pierce Brown could be an author to keep an eye on. Red Rising didn’t make the Top 15 in Hugo nomination voting last year, though. Uprooted is lower down than I thought it would be; I figured “Fairy Tale” would be an easy sell to the mainstream. Live and learn. That might be an important piece of info as we weigh the relative chances of Uprooted versus The Fifth Season.

For me, my main take-away is that there is no “consensus” book in 2015. There isn’t one novel that blew everyone away and that is going to steamroll to the Hugo and Nebula like American Gods. Instead, we’ll have a very close and competitive year.

How predictive will this list be for the Hugos and Nebulas? Well, 3 of the Top 8 were Nebula nominees. Not terrible. In a normal Hugo year, I could easily imagine a ballot of Bacigalupi / Stephenson / Leckie / Jemisin / Novik. This year with all the slate activity, we’ll likely get something very different. If the ballot winds up as Butcher / Stephenson / Leckie / Jemisin / Wright (as a guess), that will still be 3 out of the 5. Pretty pretty good.

Some final notes on sources: I try to include a wide variety of venues. Some list are flat-out “Best of the Year” with no genre specifications. Some are “Best SF and F” of the year. Some are short, 5 or so items. Some are long, giving 20-30 books. Some are “Holiday Guides” that are de facto Best of 2015 lists. Here are the sources with links: Amazon, Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, Goodreads Choice Science Fiction, Goodreads Choice Fantasy, Entertainment Weekly, NY Times, NPR, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Chicago Tribune, Kirkus, Library Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Slate, LA Times, A.V. Club, Wall Street Journal, SF Chronicle, and Audible.

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