Final Best of 2015 SFF Critics Meta-List

To supplement the mainstream’s view of SFF, I also collate 10 different lists by SFF critics. Rules are the same: appear on a list, get 1 point.

For this list, I’ve been looking for SFF critics who are likely to reflect the tastes of the Hugo award voters. That way, my list will be as predictive as possible. I’m currently using some of the biggest SFF review websites, under the theory that they’re so widely read they’ll reflect broad voting tastes. These were Tor.com, the Barnes and Noble SF Blog, and io9.com.

For the other 7 sources on my list, I included semiprozines, fanzines, and podcasts that have recently been nominated for the Hugo award. The theory here is that if these websites/magazines were well enough liked to get Hugo noms, they likely reflect the tastes of the Hugo audience. Ergo, collating them will be predictive. This year, I used the magazines Locus Magazine and Strange Horizons, the fan websites Book Smugglers, Elitist Book Reviews, and Nerds of a Feather (to replace the closing Dribble of Ink; Nerds didn’t get a Hugo nom last year, but was close, and I need another website), and fancasts Coode Street Podcast and SF Signal Podcast.

Here’s the results (and a link to the spreadsheet):

1. Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Ann: on 8 lists
1. Uprooted, Novik, Naomi: on 8 lists
3. The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.: on 7 lists
3. Aurora, Robinson, Kim Stanley: on 7 lists
5. Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho, Zen: on 6 lists
5. Dark Orbit, Gilman, Carolyn Ives: on 6 lists
7. The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Wilson, Kai Ashante: on 5 lists
7. A Darker Shade of Magic, Schwab, V.E.: on 5 lists
7. The Just City/Philosopher Kings, Walton, Jo: on 5 lists
10. Karen Memory, Bear, Elizabeth: on 4 lists
10. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Dickinson, Seth: on 4 lists
10. Europe at Midnight, Hutchison, Dave: on 4 lists
10. Archivist Wasp, Kornher-Stace, Nicole: on 4 lists
10. The Grace of Kings, Liu, Ken: on 4 lists
10. Luna: New Moon, McDonald, Ian: on 4 lists
10. Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal: on 4 lists
10. Radiance, Valente, Catherynne: on 4 lists

This list was much more top-heavy than the mainstream list. Those top 4 novels of Ancillary Mercy, Uprooted, The Fifth Season, and Aurora were pretty much the consensus of critics in 2015; almost everyone mentioned them in glowing terms. In an ordinary Hugo year—uninflected by Sad or Rabbid Puppies—I think Leckie, Jemisin, Novik, and Robinson would be good bets to make the final Hugo ballot. I’d round that out with Seveneves from slightly lower down on the list, and that’s based on Neal Stephenson’s strong Hugo history, including nominations for similarly long books like Cryptonomicon and Anathem, as well as a win for The Diamond Age. Familiarity with the voting audience always helps, as well as how popular Seveneves is.

The books in the 5-15 range make for an interesting and varied bunch. You see a lot of more unusual fantasy in that part of the list, from Zen Cho to Kai Ashante Wilson to Elizabeth Bear to Seth Dickinson to Ken Liu. All those texts will likely split the vote with each other, preventing one from emerging from that crush. Dave Hutchinson is absolutely adored by European critical voices; if the Hugos were taking place overseas, like they will next year, he’d be a good bet. This Europe series hasn’t made much of an impact in the United States, so that dooms his chances for the Hugo this year. Dark Orbit did very well, but with more obvious SF choices like Leckie, Robinson, and Stephenson, I think she’ll get lost in the Hugo shuffle. This might be a strong contender for some of the smaller SFF awards like the Clarke or Campbell Memorial.

Some of our Nebula nominees didn’t fair particularly well with SFF critics. None of our SFF critics recommended Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, possibly due to how late it came out in the year (end of December). Charles Gannon also had no recommendations from these 10 critical lists. Fran Wilde’s Updraft only had 2. Tough to see any of these making the final Hugo ballot, particularly in a competitive year.

Normally, I’d combine this list with past Hugo history and overall popularity to make my predictions. This year, I’ll need to balance those 3 factors with the Rabid Puppy and Sad Puppy recommendations to come up with something credible. Not taking the Puppies into account, I’d have Leckie / Jemisin / Novik / Robinson / Stephenson as my Top 5, with Bacigalupi / Walton / Liu / Cho / Dickinson / Bear / McDonald / Wilson following. Brandon Sanderson is also popular enough to be in the 8-12 range, and The Expanse TV show might help James S.A. Corey push back up into that territory. You’d figure Cixin Liu would get some votes for The Dark Forest, being last year’s winner and all.

Some final notes on the lists: to collate them, I try to include everything that was identified as “Best of the Year” in each post. Some of these lists are very long (20-40 items), so I sometimes thinking not making the list means more than making it. “Honorable Mentions” don’t count, and I make no effort to ensure eligibility/genre. I also don’t track “Best First Novel” lists. Many of these lists are themselves collections, gathering the opinions of 5, 10, or more critics. Sometimes a book will be mentioned 3 or 4 times in a single post. I limit points to one per post. Once again, the spreadsheet is here.

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5 responses to “Final Best of 2015 SFF Critics Meta-List”

  1. Laura says :

    I had been debating between 3-4 books which one I would try to get read before Hugo noms close. This decides it for Aurora!

  2. airboy says :

    The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher is the widely read, popular SF book that was largely ignored by the SF literary press.

    Depends on how many nominate and how many Sads & Rabids vote. But Butcher’s book combined good writing, high sales, and strong positive comments from readers on Amazon and in the general book review press.

    Like many elections, who shows up to vote is important. Good luck in your predictions.

  3. Doctor Science says :

    Thank you so much for this list! I want to read one or two more novels before finalizing my nominations, and this (plus your spreadsheet) gives me a good idea of where the gaps in my coverage might be. “Radiance” and “Europe at Midnight”, it turns out.

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