Novel Winner: Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)
Novik wins for her fairy-taleish feeling Uprooted. This year, popularity seems to have won out. Compare Novik’s number of ratings to Jemisin’s and Leckie’s as of today, 5/16/16:
|The Fifth Season||5,658||120|
In fact, Uprooted is about the most popular Science Fiction or Fantasy book of last year. I can’t think of a single book that has more Goodreads ratings this year. It just passed Armada this past month. You can check my list, which only tracks until March 31st (I only use it for predicting nominees, not winners, although maybe I should start using it for both!). Seveneves, Armada, and The Aeronaut’s Windlass still beat Novik out on Amazon, though. Novik being so much more popular than anyone else seems to have given her the edge: more readers, more potential voters, even in the relative small pool of the SFWA.
This makes Uprooted a prohibitive Hugo favorite. When a Nebula winner is up for the Hugo, it almost always wins. Sadly, my Nebula prediction formula isn’t working very well; I’ll have to tweak it this summer to take raw popularity more into account.
Congrats to Novik!
UPDATE 5/16/16: Here’s some historical data on the Best Novel winners from the SFWA recommended reading list. Eventual winner is in orange, nominees in green.
This year, Novik won even though she was much lower down on the list, in position #4. She was beaten in the recs by Gannon, Schoen, and Wilde. I think each of those books had a very strong nomination support group that didn’t translate to the larger voting audience. Any thoughts on why this data wasn’t predictive? Here’s this year SFWA Recommendations, with perfect correlation to the nominees but not the winner. Far left column is the number of recs.
|35||Barsk: The Elephants’ G…||Schoen, Lawrence M.||Tor Books||12 / 2015|
|33||Raising Caine||Gannon, Charles E.||Baen||7 / 2015|
|29||Updraft||Wilde, Fran||Tor Books||9 / 2015|
|25||Uprooted||Novik, Naomi||Del Rey||5 / 2015|
|22||The Grace of Kings||Liu, Ken||Saga Press||4 / 2015|
|21||Ancillary Mercy||Leckie, Ann||Orbit||10 / 2015|
|19||The Fifth Season||Jemisin, N. K.||Orbit||8 / 2015|
|18||Beasts of Tabat||Rambo, Cat||WordFire Press||4 / 2015|
|18||Karen Memory||Bear, Elizabeth||Tor Books||2 / 2015|
I’ve spun my creaky model around and around, and here is my prediction for the Nebulas Best Novel category, taking place this weekend:
N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season: 22.5%
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy: 22%
Naomi Novik, Uprooted: 14.7%
Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings: 13.3%
Lawrence Schoen, Barsk: 10.7%
Charles Gannon, Trial by Fire: 9.5%
Fran Wilde, Updraft: 7.3%
Remember, Chaos Horizon is a grand (and perhaps failed!) experiment to see if we can predict the Nebulas and Hugos using publicly available data. To predict the Nebulas, I’m currently using 10 “Indicators” of past Best Novel winners. I’ve listed them at the bottom of this post, and I suggest you dig into the previous year’s prediction post to see how I’m building the model. If you travel down that hole, I suggest you bring plenty of coffee.
Simply put, though, I treat a bunch of indicators as competing experts (one person says the blue horse always wins! another person says when it’s rainy, green horses win!) and combine those expert voices to come up with a single number. While my model gives Jemisin a very slight edge this year, anyone can (and has) won the Best Nebula Novel award. We’ve had some real curveballs in this category in the last 15 years, and if you bet money on this award, you’d lose. What I suggest is treating the list as a starting point for further thought and discussion . . . Why would Jemisin be in the lead? What about The Fifth Season seems to make it a front-runner?
This year, Jemisin does very well because of her impressive Hugo and Nebula history (6 prior nominations), her sterling placement on year-end lists, her nominations for the Hugo, Locus Fantasy, and Kitscies, and the fact this is the first novel in a series. Jemisin is very familiar to the Nebula audience and critically acclaimed. That’s a recipe for winning. The Nebulas tend to go to first books in a series (think Ancillary Justice or Annihilation from the past two years), so if Jemisin doesn’t win for Book #1 of The Broken Earth series, it could be quite a while before she has viable chance to win again. Does that help? Sure, SFWA voters could vote Book #3 to win, but that hasn’t happened in the past. I tend not to look much at content (there are plenty of other websites for that), but The Fifth Season does have some of the more experimental/literary prose Nebula voters have liked recently. Parts of it are in the second person, for instance. This book would fit pretty well with the Leckie and VanderMeer wins.
Leckie is probably too high in my formula—and that’s not because SFWA voters don’t like Leckie, but because Ancillary Justice just won 2 years ago. Do the SFWA voters really want to give Leckie another award for the same series so soon? Aside from that wrinkle, Ancillary Mercy has everything going for it: critical acclaim, award nominations, etc. A decade from now, I expect Leckie to have won the Nebule at least once more . . . but not until she publishes a new series.
I think Uprooted has a real shot. This is actually a great test case year, allowing us to balance what SFWA voters value the most: past Nebula history/familiarity? That helps Jemisin and Liu; Novik has 0 prior Nebula noms. If it’s popularity, that helps Novik—stroll over to Amazon or Goodreads, and you can see that Uprooted has 4-5 times more rankings than Jemisin or Leckie. In the past, though, the SFWA hasn’t much cared about mainstream popularity. If Uprooted wins, I need to recalculate my formulate take popularity more into account.
Ken Liu will be familiar to the Nebula audience–he’s already won a Nebula in short fiction. My formula dings him because he didn’t show up on year-end lists or in the other awards. Same for Updraft, although we’re lacking the Nebula history for Wilde.
Gannon is the new Jack McDevitt—and McDevitt got nominated a bunch of times and then won. So it’s not out of the realm of reason for Gannon to win this year: the other books split the vote, etc. Still, it’s hard to imagine voters jumping on to Book #3 of a series if Books #1 and #2 couldn’t win.
That leaves Schoen—a true wild card. Schoen had the most votes in the SFWA nomination recommended list, and we don’t yet know how much that matters. If Schoen wins, I’ll have to completely rejigger my formula. Things are getting a little creaky as is, and it’s probably time to go back and rebuild the model for Year #4.
Always remember the Nebula is an unpredictable award. Remember, The Quantum Rose won over A Storm of Swords. Who saw that coming? That’s why everyone has a decent chance in my formula: no one dips below 5%.
Lastly, remember Chaos Horizon is just for fun, a chance to look at some predictions and think about who is likely to win. A different statistician would build a different model, and there’s no problem with that—statistics can’t predict the future. Instead, they help us to think about events that haven’t happened yet. That’s just one of many possible engagements with the awards. Good luck to all the Nebula nominees, and enjoy the ceremonies this weekend!
Indicator #1: Author has previously been nominated for a Nebula (80%)
Indicator #2: Author has previously been nominated for a Hugo (73.33%)
Indicator #3: Has received at least 10 combined Hugo + Nebula noms (46.67%)
Indicator #4: Novel is science fiction (73.33%)
Indicator #5: Places on the Locus Recommended Reading List (93.33%)
Indicator #6: Places in the Goodreads Best of the Year Vote (100.00%)
Indicator #7: Places in the Top 10 on the Chaos Horizon SFF Critics Meta-List (100.00%)
Indicator #8: Receives a same-year Hugo nomination (60%)
Indicator #9: Nominated for at least one other major SFF award (73.33%)
Indicator #10: Is the first novel of a series or standalone. (80%)
The percentage afterward tracks the data from 2001-2015 (when available), so it reads that 80% of the time, the eventual winner had previously been nominated for a Nebula, etc.
For this Meta-List, I track 15 of the biggest SFF awards. Since each award has its own methodologies, biases, and blind spots, this gives us more of a 10,000 foot view of the field, to see if there are any consensus books emerging.
As of early May we have nominees for 10 of the 15 awards. I track the following awards: Clarke, British Fantasy, British SF, Campbell, Compton Crook, Gemmell, Hugo, Kitschies, Locus SF, Locus Fantasy, Nebula, Dick, Prometheus, Tiptree, World Fantasy. I ignore the first novel awards.
Here’s the current results:
4 nominations: The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.
3 nominations: Europe at Midnight, Hutchinson, Dave
3 nominations: Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Anne
3 nominations: Uprooted, Novik, Naomi
3 nominations: Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal
2 nominations: The House of Shattered Wings, Bodard, Aliette de
2 nominations: Apex, Naam, Ramez
2 nominations: A Borrowed Man, Wolfe, Gene
Everyone else has 1.
As you can see, the top of that list correlates very well to the Hugo awards. Dave Hutchinson is very well-liked by the British based awards and largely ignored by American awards. With nominations in the Hugos, Nebulas, Kitschies, and Locus Fantasy, Jemisin is leading the way this year. Does this make her a favorite for the Nebulas this weekend? Or is she so neck and neck with Leckie and Novik that we don’t learn anything form this list?
No book has really broken out of the pack, like when Ancillary Justice took a huge lead a few years ago. I think we’ll have a close season with different books winning the different awards.