2016 Nebula Prediction

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.

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2 responses to “2016 Nebula Prediction”

  1. MadProfessah says :

    I hope you’re right. Jemisin has been nominated for a lot of awards but hasn’t won that many. YET, Hopefully 2016 will be her year.

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