The Kingmaker Effect and the 2016 Hugos

As we accelerate towards the announcement of the 2016 Hugo winner, it’s time to think once again about the Kingmaker effect and the Hugo awards. This is going to be essential both for 2016 and moving forward into 2017, even if the Hugo voting changes pass. The “E puribus Hugo” only addresses the nominating stage, leaving plenty of room for kingmaker effects in the final voting stage.

The long and short of it is that a dedicated block of voters can change the outcome by voting for what would normally be the #2 or even #3 place finisher, pushing them into the winner’s circle by overcoming the “organic” winner. Let’s define margin of victory as how many votes there wound up being between the winner and the second place finisher. You can pull this information off of the Hugo voting packets. Basically, this number tells us how many votes you would need to change the outcome of the Hugo. If The Goblin Emperor beat The Three-Body Problem by 300 votes, you’d need a block of at least 300 voters to come in and vote for Cixin Liu to change the outcome (in my opinion, this is pretty much what happened last year):

Other initial Best Novel analysis: Goblin Emperor lost the Best Novel to Three-Body Problem by 200 votes. Since there seem to have been at least 500 Rabid Puppy voters who followed VD’s suggestion to vote Liu first, this means Liu won because of the Rabid Puppies. Take that as you will.

Here’s the data from 2010-2014. I left off last year because the Puppy campaigns changed the results so profoundly:

Margin of Victory 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Novel 0 26 161 213 644
Novella 11 244 35 158 83
Novelette 3 97 116 109 460
Short Story 167 194 210 232 307
Related Work 60 53 163 3 84

With a couple of exceptions—Leckie dominating the 2014 novel race with Ancillary Justice, and Mary Robinette Kowal winning the Novellete category in 2014 after she was disqualified a year earlier for the same story—a block vote of 300 would almost always be enough to sway the outcome. In some years, you’d only need a handful of votes. The 0 value in a 2010 is the tie between Bacigalupi and Mieville. It wouldn’t have taken much to push Feed over Blackout/All Clear in 2012, and only a little more to elevated 2312 over Redshirts in 2013. Even without deeply impacting the nominating stage, a block vote can fundamentally change who wins the Hugo award.

So, are we in for any kingmaker scenarios in the fiction categories this year?

Best Novel: I don’t think we’re in a kingmaker situation here, although I do think the Puppy block vote makes Uprooted an almost sure winner. A refresher of where we’re at:

Uprooted by Noami Novik, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie all made the ballot “organically,” i.e. without appearing on the Rabid Puppy list.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson and The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher also made the final ballot. Both appeared on the Rabid Puppy list. Prior to the Puppies, Jim Butcher had never been nominated for a Hugo Best Novel, and past Hugo voting packets show him  receiving very few votes. I often refer back to the 2009 nominating data, where Butcher only received 6 votes for Small Favor, one of his Dresden novels. If that number seems shockingly low for so popular writer, remember that Butcher is associated with Urban Fantasy writing, a sub-genre that has not historically been part of the Hugos.

Stephenson is the most complex situation. He has received Hugo nominations three times before without any Puppy help: for Anathem in 2009, for Cryptonomicon in 2000, and for The Diamond Age in 1996. Diamond Age went on to win the Hugo that year. So while the Puppies certainly helped, we won’t know whether or not Stephenson would have received a nomination on his own until the final data comes out. A few more bits of data: Stephenson received 93 nominating votes in 2009, second most to Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. In the final ballot, Anathem took second, losing to The Graveyard Book by 120 votes, 477 to 357. If Seveneves performs similarly, it could have come down to how many people voted Seveneves as “No Award” based solely on its appearance on the Rabid Puppies list.

However, that’s all a moot point. On the final Rabid Puppy Hugo ballot, Vox Day put Uprooted above Seveneves (Novik/Stephenson/Butcher/No Award was the exact order). That will pretty much clinch the race for Uprooted, based on this logic:

  1. Uprooted was already very likely to finish either #1 or #2 in the Hugo voting, based on Novik’s strong performance in winning the Nebula, the Locus Fantasy Award, and grabbing nominations in the World Fantasy Award and British Fantasy. She has also done very well with SF Critics and Mainstream Critics, all of which are good indicators of Hugo success. She’s sold a ton of copies (46,000+ ratings on Goodreads, for instance). The closest competitor seems to be The Fifth Season, but Jemisin has already lost the Nebula and Locus Fantasy votes to Novik. As such, I think Uprooted was likely to win the Hugo without any help from the Puppies.
  2. The Rabid Puppies were at least 200 strong in the nominating stage, possibly higher. They might be anywhere from 200-500+ in the final voting stage (the final voting always brings more people to the table). Let’s use a very conservative 300.
  3. 300 additional votes for Uprooted at #1 will be enough to cover any potential margin of victory that either Jemisin, Stephenson, or Leckie might have had without the Rabid Puppies. Let’s say Jemisin squeaked out an “organic” victory of 100 votes; once the Rabid Puppies are tallied, that swings outcome back to Novik. You’d have to predict a scenario where Jemisin (or Leckie) would beat Novik by a number greater than the total number of Rabid Puppies. That’s only happened once in the last 5 years, when Ancillary Justice was a consensus book against a weaker field. So could it be Leckie again? I don’t think so; she’s already won a Hugo for this series and I don’t think voters are ready to give her a second. Even if she squeaked out an organic win, I can’t see it being by a 300 vote margin. Butcher will attract tons of No Award votes, so he’s not even in the conversation.

So that leaves Uprooted as the only novel that seems to have a chance of winning the Hugos. What other book has a path to victory? You’d have to predict a huge “organic” win for either Jemisin or Leckie, and that just doesn’t seem likely. We’ll find out shortly!

Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story:

In each of these categories, the Rabid Puppies swept 4 out of 5 positions. This means that the non-slate story is the prohibitive favorite, based on how many people voted slated works No Award last year.  If there’s any drama, it might be in “Best Novella.” Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, the Nebula winner, is the non-slate work. Louis McMaster Bujold’s Penric’s Demon, from the same universe as her Hugo winning Paladin of Souls, is the number #1 Rabid Puppy pick. How many people will No Award Bujold based solely on her appearing on the Rabid Puppies slate? Let’s say Binti wins by an organic margin of 200 (before factoring in the Rabid Vote) and the Rabids are 400. It would take only 200 voters “No Award”ing Penric’s Demon to keep Binti the winner. I expect that to happen, but this will be some great data to sort through once the packets are released.

I don’t see anything preventing “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” or “Cat Pictures Please” from winning the Novelette and Short Story category. Stephen King’s huge popularity will be blunted by his not being primarily associated with Science Fiction or Fantasy. “Folding Beijing” might be competitive, but the Rabid Puppies put it lower on their list, minimizing its chances.

So, what do you think? Will there be any kingmaker effects this year? Or will the Hugo fiction categories play out pretty much as they would have without the Rabid Puppies?

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16 responses to “The Kingmaker Effect and the 2016 Hugos”

  1. Bartimaeus says :

    I didn’t know that it was the Puppies who were the deciding factor between The Goblin Emperor and Three-Body Problem; your analysis of 2nd place votes for Butcher and Anderson is very convincing. So the Puppies had a big effect even in a year with 5000+ voters. This year’s turnout seems to be smaller (based on MidAmeriConII’s members list), so the Puppies’ effect should be bigger.

    From what I’ve seen, there seems to be a feeling that The Fifth Season shouldn’t have lost both the Nebula and Locus – but that’s just a personal anecdote. The numbers – both your analysis and the (likely) decreased turnout – seem to strongly favor Uprooted.

  2. Stuart Hall says :

    There is another factor we don’t have any measure of yet. Last year a sizeable number of people took out supporting memberships specifically to back the Puppy campaign. Last year’s membership allowed them to nominate this year but not vote. To vote they would have to renew and we don’t know how many of them have, though it may be possible to make an estimate from the membership numbers.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Very true, but the opposite is also probably true, that people who were drawn to the controversy last year to vote against the Puppy sweep haven’t renewed this year. I expect to see smaller numbers all around. If the Puppy effect was 500 last year, what will it be this year? We probably won’t get a good sense until the data is released.

      • Mark says :

        For similar reasons to Stuart, I think #2 is a unwarranted assumption about the RP. They do most of their damage in the nomination stage, so that’s where the big push comes (compare the number of reminders VD did about nominations compared to voting to see which stage he’s most concerned about). Assuming the traditional pattern of more people voting than nominating will hold true for them is a bit shaky, esp as it incurs extra cost.
        That said, it’s pretty clear that VD would like a kingmaker effect (or to be able to claim one, at least) from his choice of Uprooted over Seveneves or Windlass, despite the last two being his nomination picks. He clearly wants to sink the chances of Jemisin and Leckie – the former is an Official Nemesis ™ of his, and the latter is one of the main puppy targets – and promoting Uprooted is his best tactic for the reasons you outlined.

      • chaoshorizon says :

        It will be interesting to see how it works out. It’s very hard to predict the behaviors of a group you’re not a member of. I can see your scenario working out, with a sharp decline of rabid voters (down to 100? 150?) as the cost of continuing to disrupt the Hugos is another $50 this year. But could this group see $50 as a good value, as it would allow them to nominate again next year? Even 100 votes would seem enough to me to sink Jemisin or Leckie’s chances.

      • Mark says :

        I don’t doubt that some of the RP, perhaps even a good proportion, will have re-joined in anticipation of same again next year, but I think they’re drawing from a fixed pool at this point and you’ll have very few join in at the voting stage who weren’t already nominators this year.
        You’re right about the potentially small margin though – I see it as Fifth Season and Uprooted for 1st and 2nd.

      • Lela E. Buis says :

        You guys are probably right that Vox Day looked at Seveneves and decided it would be hard to push it to a win over Jemisin or Leckie, so he’s chosen Uprooted to promote. However, I sort of like Seveneves for a win. It’s got some problems as a novel, but it certainly does have a grand sweep and tries to do something unusual for SF these days, which is to project a possible future for the human race. I don’t know that it will beat Uprooted’s track record, but it might come in second.

        As far as the Rabid block declining in numbers goes, I think Day has a lot of folks on board and that the effort to swing the direction of the awards has taken hold pretty strongly. Vox Day also published recommendations for the Locus awards and the Dragon awards, indicating that he means to repeat his strategy of influence.

  3. MadProfessah says :

    I was one of the people who got a supporting membership last year during the Sad Puppies controversy and have not re-upped to vote this year (although I did nominate.) I’m just not that interested and was unenthused by the Hugo nominees overall, although I am glad that Jemisin and Leckie got nominated, even if I think both their books are good but not great (i.e. should NOT win the Hugo). There was nothing so objectionable this year that made me feel like I had to jump in and join to NO AWARD Puppy filth. I read Jim Butcher’s book last year and although he’s not my cup of tea, I think he’s an acceptable nominee.

    I actually have Uprooted in my possession from the library and can NOT get myself to start it (I’m still remembering my visceral reaction of displeasure/boredom with the Temeraire series after the 2nd or 3rd book). However, I do intend to read it soon.

    I actually liked Seveneves quite a lot and would be perfectly fine with it winning the Hugo.

    Hmmm, I didn’t realize that VD was also publishing recommendations for Locus and Dragon awards. Locus is voted on by subscribers only, right (although nominations are wide open). What about the Gemmel awards? Is VD trying to influence those as well?

    • Lela E. Buis says :

      I haven’t heard or seen anything a about Vox Day in relation to the Gemmel awards. However, checking on the 2016 awards, I see that noted Sad Puppy Larry Correia is a finalist in two categories. This may not mean anything in particular, as I do think the Puppies have been successful in swinging the pendulum a little more toward what they call “traditional” writing nominees. This may be just because of greater activism from fans of this kind of work.

      • Mark says :

        Lela, you should probably look at the past nominees for the Gemmel. There’s been a spot of brigading but otherwise this year’s type of nominee is pretty consistent with its history.

    • Mark says :

      MadProfessah, Locus holds an open vote, although subscriber votes count double. There’s only one stage of voting, although they announce the final five before the ceremony to make it feel a bit more like a two stage.
      The results are out, and there’s no convincing sign of VD having influenced the results. (Although I haven’t seen the longlist so his unique picks may be visible further down the chart)

      • chaoshorizon says :

        Taking a look at my version of Locus, the Puppies did impact those awards. I don’t want to violate copyright (they’ll publish the full list eventually), but here’s an example in short story: “Seven Kill Tiger” from the Castalia House There Will Be War placed 6th, and “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” placed 7th. So just outside the public Top 5. Butcher got #10 in Novel. Subscriber doubling made all the difference there.

      • Mark says :

        Well, I’m glad I caveated that I hadn’t seen the longlist then!
        They’ll release it at http://www.sfadb.com/Locus_Awards eventually.
        It could have been the subscriber doubling, but also it was a bit of a last-minute effort by VD which may reduced the amount of support he got. (Being free to vote may have cancelled that out though.)

  4. David Holmes says :

    I think your reasoning is sound, but I can see one way that The Fifth Season might win: there might be an unusually strong correlation between anti-Puppy voters and fans of the book (and of Jemisin).

    The Fifth Season is the anti-puppy novel in a lot of ways. It’s pretty much the epitome of everything that both the Sads and Rabids claim to be opposed to. If there’s any truth whatsoever to what the Sads claim, Hugo voters may favor The Fifth Season more than Nebula or Locus voters would.

    Furthermore, due to the personal history between Jemisin and Beale (and the beliefs of Beale in general), Jemisin fans likely detest Beale more than anybody. The Hugo voting base might be in part self-selected from such people.

    (For the record, I myself voted for The Fifth Season in first place.)

    • chaoshorizon says :

      An interesting scenario, and a good reason why outlier years are so hard to predict. It’s increidbly difficult to know the composition of this year Hugo voters. Plenty of voters are doubtless going to vote Jemisin above Novik, but will there be enough to overcome her Nebula win, her greater popularity than Jemisin, and the Rabid Puppy effect? What I like about predictions is that we’re going to be proven right or wrong in a mere number of weeks.

  5. airboy says :

    I think your final predictions should be both for “winner” and what will be “no awarded.”

    I did not vote this year although I nominated. My nominees largely did not make the final cut aside from Windless. I was going to be a non-attending member until the retro Hugos were largely omitted from the voter package. The retros were extremely interesting and some are hard to obtain in ebook.

    I’ve decided that the literary bent of the Hugos make them an anti-buying signal for me. I’m hoping that the crowd-sourced Dragon Awards will be a useful buying signal. I’m especially hopeful since their categories contain a lot of genres that I actually buy heavily.

    Another reason not to participate in the Hugos – I just enjoyed Liberty Con way too much to waste my time on the Hugo stuff. At Liberty Con I can actually talk to readers who enjoy what I like to read, and meet authors that I buy a lot of books from.

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