Archive | November 2016

Best of 2016: Amazon’s Top 20 SFF Books

Amazon has their annual list upThe Wolf Road by Beth Lewis, a post-apocalyptic novel with what seems to be Western overtones, was their pick as the top SFF book of the year. Amazon always pushes in a more mainstream direction, given their massive audience Here are the books that made their top 20, in no particular order:

Death’s End, Cixin Liu
The Diabolic, S.J. Kincaid
The Hike, Drew Magary
The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin
The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman
Morning Star, Pierce Brown
All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
Age of Myth, Michael J. Sullivan
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
The Summer Dragon, Todd Lockwood
The Burning Isle, Will Panzo
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Meg Elison\
City of Blades, Robert Jackson Bennett
Company Town, Madeline Ashby
The Dark Side, Anthony O’Neill
Skinner Lyce, Patricia Ward
Star Nomad, Lindsay Buroker
Machinations, Hayley Stone

That chalks up another list for Jemisin, Yoon Ha Lee, Charlie Jane Anders, and Robert Jackson Bennett. No Lois McMaster Bujold or Connie Willis. Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville also hasn’t done well so far on year end lists—maybe too weird, both in genre and content?

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead won as overall fiction book of the year. That has enough magic realist elements to be eligible in the Hugo and Nebula, so it’ll be intersting to see if it pulls a The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and has an impact in the SFF awards, or whether it just dominates the literary fiction scene.

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Best of 2016: Publisher’s Weekly, Goodreads Semifinals

That time of year is upon us: year-end lists! A few are beginning to leak out. I keep track of all the Mainstream ones in this spreadsheet—these are from websites, newspapers, etc., that are not “specialty” SFF sites. These selections tend to lean either towards the mainstream and populist (Goodreads) or towards the literary (Publisher’s Weekly). These mainstreams lists aren’t a great predictor of the Hugo or Nebula, but they do at least tend to get us in the neighborhood. If your book isn’t popular enough to make some year-end lists, you’re probably not popular enough to get a Hugo nomination.

On to the lists:

Publisher’s Weekly is always an odd list, tending to emphasize more literary Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. They only do one list for all three genres:

After Atlas, Emma Newman
All Good Children, Dayna Ingram
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Meg Elison
A Green and Ancient Light, Frederic S. Durbin
Kingfisher, Patricia A. McKillip
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife actually came out in June 2014, but was reprinted by a bigger press in 2016. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2015. Way to jump on the bandwagon, Publisher’s Weekly! McKillip is a past favorite in the World Fantasy Award, so she might show up in that award. Jemisin is obviously the big name here.

As an aside, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead made their Best Fiction category. This is a novel with enough magic realist elements (an actual underground railroad during pre-Civil War America) that it could get some play for SFF awards. Whitehead has several other genre works to his name, most notably the zombie novel Zone One. Whitehead is probably in line to win some major literary awards this year: the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, etc. Since the speculative elements are not Whitehead’s focus, I’m not expecting a Chabon style literary sweep of the Hugos and Nebulas by The Underground Railroad, but it could happen.

The Goodreads Choice awards have now announced their semifinalists, a broad list of 20 works in both the Fantasy and Science Fiction category. You can click the links to see the full list, but here’s my main contenders from the Fantasy category:

Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (novella length at under 40,000 words)
All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin
City of Blades, Robert Jackson Bennett

Works from series like V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows, Mark Lawrence’s The Wheel of Osheim, Brandon Sanderson’s The Bands of Mourning, and Brent Weeks’ The Blood Mirror also appear. While unlikely to grab Hugo or Nebula nominations based on past trends, could they show up in the new Hugo Best series category?

In the SF list, here are what I see as the main contenders:

Crosstalk, Connie Willis
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold
Morning Star, Pierce Brown
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee
Death’s End, Cixin Liu
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers
Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer

The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter and A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton also appear; both are part of a series, and unlikely to get Best Hugo Novel or Nebula noms. Perhaps they’ll be competitive in the Hugo Best Series. Right now, I have Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch as populist successes that don’t fit the mold of past Hugo or Nebula nominees. If they show up on a lot of year-end lists, I’ll elevate them to contenders.

So, where are we after these first lists? Jemisin has pulled into a lead with 2 recommendations. She’s not likely to relinquish that lead any time soon. Any big snubs so far? Mieville not making it for Last Days of New Paris is a little surprise, but that’s a novella and hard to place in terms of genre (alternative history?). Last year, I tracked 24 “best of” lists, so we still have a long ways to go before clarity.

Final 2016 SFF Awards Meta-List

As I wrap up my analysis from last year, let’s look at my final 2016 SFF Awards Metalist, now with all winners marked. This covers books published in 2015 that got award nominations in 2016. For this list, which gives a good 10,000 foot view of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards, I track 14 different awards to see who got nominated and who won. Here’s the top of the list, with all the books that got more than 2 nominations:

Nominations Title Author Wins
5 The Fifth Season Jemisin, N.K. 1
5 Uprooted Novik, Naomi 3
4 Europe at Midnight Hutchinson, Dave
4 Seveneves Stephenson, Neal 1
3 Ancillary Mercy Leckie, Anne 1

Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Novik’s Uprooted finished atop the list with 5 nominations each, although Novik grabbed 3 wins (Nebula, British Fantasy, Locus Fantasy) to Jemisin’s one (Hugo). Seveneves won the Prometheus, and Ancillary Mercy won the Locus SF. A wide range of books won SF awards this year, including lesser known works such as The Chimes by Anna Smaill (British Fantasy), Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman (Campbell), and Lizard Radio by Pat Schmaltz (Tiptree). I’ll also note that this list correlated with 4/5 of the Hugo nominees, with only Hutchinson missing out.

I think a list like this gives us a good place to start thinking about the 2017 SFF Awards season. Since the SFF voting public doesn’t change massively from year to year, they tend to duplicate picks from year to year. For 2016, Jemisin is back with The Obelisk Gate, a sequel to The Fifth Season; I expect that to be a stalwart on the 2017 awards circuits, probably matching the number of noms and wins of The Fifth Season. Novik published League of Dragons in 2016, the final book of her 9 novel Temraire sequence. Books that are #9 in a series rarely get SFF awards nomination, although she may be a possibility in the new Best Series Hugo.

Leckie and Stephenson didn’t publish books last year, which opens up some spots in the the awards. Leckie in particular has grabbed a host of nominations in these 14 awards over the past 3 years: 16 nominations and 9 wins by my count. That’s a big vacuum to fill: who’s going to step and grab these spots?

Dave Hutchinson is an interesting possibility for the Hugo this year. His third volume in his Fractured Europe series just came out November 3, Europe in Winter. Hutchinson is not particularly well known here in the United States, but he’s racked up 2 best novel  nominations on the Clarke (a British award), 3 in the British Science Fiction Award (obviously British), and 2 in the Campbell (a more literary American SF award). Could the Hugos being held in Europe this year—and presumably more British voters making the trip to Finland than Americans—result in a European bounce? London in 2014 didn’t produce much of a boon for European writers, but Glasgow in 2005 resulted in an all British/Scottish final ballot. The new Hugo voting rules will prevent a 2005 style-sweep, but they could also help push a British or maybe even Finnish author onto the ballot. Hutchinson might also be competitive in the Best Series category, although I think Charles Stross and his well-liked Laundry Files might be the better bet for the Best Series category, given the fact that he’s won the Best Hugo Novella 3 times already for works from that series.

Looking further down the list, no one from last year’s nominees really jumps out as a major contender for 2016. Amazingly, The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu didn’t get a single SFF award nomination last year despite winning the Hugo the year before, which probably speaks poorly to Death’s End‘s chances. Ken Liu only got the Nebula nomination for The Grace of Kings, so he might be a contender in that category again. Becky Chambers got only one nomination for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but that was an indie published book that came out in several different formats over several different years; her sequel A Closed and Common Orbit has none of those publication issues and may grab some nominations.

All in all, we’re going to be looking at some new faces for 2017. I’ll start hacking away with some preliminary lists of contenders for the 2017 Hugo and Nebula later this week.

Goodreads Choice Award Voting Now Open

The annual Goodreads Choice Awards, one of the open “Best of the Year” votes on the internet, is now open. While this vote has never correlated well to the Hugos and Nebulas, it does give us some initial insight into what the most popular books of the year are, at least with regard to the Goodreads audience. Historically, the Hugo and Nebula winners have appeared on the list of the Goodreads semifinalists, but that isn’t a huge feat because there are 20 semifinalists for each category. If you can’t hit the eventual winners when you’re choosing 40 texts . . . Still, it helps to narrow down the field of contenders.

At this point (Opening Round), Goodreads selects 15 books to let people vote on; voters can also write in their own works. In the SF category, you’ve got heavy hitters like Cixin Liu’s Death’s End, Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, as well as popular texts like Pierce Brown’s Morning Star or Blake Crouch’s (of Wayward Pines fame) Dark Matter. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter show up with The Long Cosmos, the final volume of the Long Earth series—and a potential Hugo Best Series nominee, given it will be the last time readers can vote for Pratchett. Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning shows up, and that’s a book I have my eye on to see if it grabs momentum. Connie Willis is missing—did Crosstalk come out too late in the year? Remember, voters can write books in, so it has a chance to show up in the semifinals.

Fantasy is more of a genre mish-mash on Goodreads, pulling together epic fantasy, things like J.K. Rowling’s play Harry Potter and the First Child, and a bunch of paranormal romances books. Aside from Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate and Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, I don’t see a ton of awards contenders on that list. Sanderson might be viable for a Best Hugo Series nomination—would Mistborn be tempting? Or the entire Cosmere? Also, will Harry Potter be nominated for Best Series on the backs of The First Child? The rules would seem to make that acceptable.

Goodreads gives us one of our first glimpses into the avalance of “Best of 2016” lists—we’ll get a bunch more soon. Head on over and vote and let your voices be heard!

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