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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.

2016 Nebula Winners Announced: Novik Wins Best Novel

The SFWA announced the Nebula winners this weekend:

Novel Winner: Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

Other nominees:
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:

Goodreads Amazon
Uprooted 38,266 1,154
Ancillary Mercy 9,782 205
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

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.

Nebula Nominees Out: Some Initial Data

The SFWA announced this year’s Nebula Best Novel Nominees yesterday. As I predicted, they mirrored the SFWA Recommended Reading list exactly. We did get 7 nominees, which means there was a tie somewhere. Here’s the list:

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)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Congrats to all the nominees. Now we can turn our attention to predicting the winner. Winning a Nebula is very different than getting nominated; a small group of passionate fans can drive a nomination, but to win you need to build a broader coalition. Voting takes place between March 1st and March 30th according to the SFWA website:

From March 1, 2016, to March 30, 2016, 11:59pm PDT, SFWA’s Active and  Lifetime Active members may vote on the final ballot for the 2015 Nebula Awards (presented in 2016), the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

That’s not a lot of time to read 6 books, so I think popularity measures are a good place to start. If lots of SFWA voters have already read a book, it stands to reason more people could vote for it. Let’s take a glance at popularity as measured by Goodreads and Amazon # of rankings:

Table #1: Popularity of Nebula Best Novel Nominees by # of Rankings at Amazon and Goodreads

Amazon Goodreads
Uprooted 969 30,650
Grace of Kings 164 2,541
Ancillary Mercy 163 7,425
The Fifth Season 78 3,829
Updraft 58 605
Barsk 35 145
Raising Caine 24 130

I don’t pay too much attention to fine differences but more order of magnitude (10x) issues. It’s clear that Uprooted is far more popular than any other of the Nebula nominees this year. Barsk, which led the SFWA Recommended Reading List and thus has a kind of fronturunner status right now, hasn’t had much expsoure yet. The book came out in December, and I think the question we face is whether Schoen can pick up enough SFWA readers by the end of March to be competitive with Novik. We’ll have to see how the next month goes.

As a final note, you can see in this chart how differently Amazon and Goodreads track books. Grace of Kings does well on Amazon but poorly on Goodreads, for instance. Amazon and Goodreads track different audiences, and neither of those audiences may be particularly well synced with SFWA voters. In fact, I’ve not found a good correlation between these popularity measures and who wins the Nebula. So you can’t simply say Uprooted is popular and Barsk is not; it matters whether or not you’re popular with the SFWA voting audience.

Over at the Heart of Europe, Nicholas Whyte tracks some slightly different data but equally interesting data (Goodreads owners, Library Thing). Check his post out here.

How about book scores? Those are even less predictive of the Nebula; Annihilation won last year with a very low average ranking on Amazon and Goodreads. Still, here’s the data:

Table #2: Popularity of Nebula Best Novel Nominees by Rating at Amazon and Goodreads

Amazon Goodreads
Barsk 4.9 3.91
Raising Caine 4.8 4.17
Updraft 4.7 3.71
The Fifth Season 4.7 4.34
Uprooted 4.5 4.18
Ancillary Mercy 4.3 4.25
Grace of Kings 3.9 3.76

Talk about inconsistent! We’ve got a huge 1 star difference for Barsk and Updraft. Goodreads and Amazon have different suggested scales, so that accounts for some of the difference. What I’d take from this chart is that reader struggled with Grace of Kings, generally liked The Fifth Season, Uprooted, and Ancillary Mercy, and that we don’t have enough rankings on Barsk, Raising Caine, and Updraft to say anything sensible. Like I noted, though, I don’t think these scores have any bearing on the Nebula.

Let’s look at prior Nebula and Hugo history. If you’ve won before, doesn’t that mean you have the fanbase to win again?

Nebula Noms Nebula Wins Hugo Noms Hugo Wins
Liu (Grace of Kings) 8 1 4 3
Jemisin (The Fifth Season) 4 0 2 0
Schoen (Barsk) 3 0 1 0
Gannon (Raising Caine) 2 0 0 0
Leckie (Ancillary Mercy) 2 1 2 1
Wilde (Updraft) 0 0 0 0
Novik (Uprooted) 0 0 1 0

That’s a lot of prior nominations for Ken Liu. Is he due for another win? It might work the other way—he’s lost 7 Nebulas in a row after his win for “The Paper Menagerie” back in 2012 (that story also won the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award). Do Liu’s fans only have the ability to get nominations but not wins? How about Jemisin (4 losses / 0 wins) or Schoen (3 losses / 0 wins)? Due for a win or just not popular enough with the SFWA voters? Could someone totally fresh to the Nebulas (Novik/Wilde) sneak in? Or will people go with our only prior Best Novel winner with Leckie?

Some other factors to consider: by my reckoning, only Barsk and Uprooted are stand-alone stories, complete in one volume. The other books are part of a series. It’s hard to jump into the middle of a series if you’re unfamiliar with the earlier books, so that’s a strike against Gannon and Leckie. First books in a series do fine in the Nebulas (see Leckie’s win 2 years ago), but there’s also some danger of such a book not feeling “complete.”

In some ways, Wilde’s nomination is a key one. It’s the first time we’ve seen a novel receive both a Nebula Nomination and an Andre Norton nomination (the SFWA YA category). I don’t know what that means for Wilde’s chances in either, but it may signal a loosening of the SFWAs attitude towards YA fiction in the Best Novel category. That could have major implications moving forward.

I’m going to let the Nebula dust settle for a couple weeks before I come back and try to predict the winner of this award.

2016 Nebula Prediction 2.0

Time to finalize my 2016 Nebula Best Novel prediction.

This year, it’s the most boring and conservative prediction I’ve ever come up with. To catch those of you up who aren’t familiar with the prior discussions on Chaos Horizon: the SFWA made their Recommended Reading list available this year. After close analysis, it appears that this Recommended Reading list is closely (to the tune of 80%) aligned with the final Nebula nominations. Since Chaos Horizon tries to be a data-driven site, using past Nebula and Hugo patterns for its future predictions, we’re not going to find any better data than that.

As such, my prediction needs to mirror the top of the SFWA recommended reading list. Like I said, that’s boring and safe, but it is what it is. Here’s the Top 10 from the SFWA Recommended Reading list, as of 2/18/16:

Barsk: The Elephants’ G… Schoen, Lawrence M. Tor Books Dec-15
33 Raising Caine Gannon, Charles E. Baen Jul-15
29 Updraft Wilde, Fran Tor Books Sep-15
24 Uprooted Novik, Naomi Del Rey May-15
22 The Grace of Kings Liu, Ken Saga Press Apr-15
21 Ancillary Mercy Leckie, Ann Orbit Oct-15
19 The Fifth Season Jemisin, N. K. Orbit Aug-15
18 Beasts of Tabat Rambo, Cat WordFire Press Apr-15
18 Karen Memory Bear, Elizabeth Tor Books Feb-15
The Traitor Baru Cormorant Dickinson, Seth Tor Books Sep-15

There’s no reason to expect that the Nebula Best Novel nominations will look any different from the top of this list. We may see one novel from lower down like The Fifth Season jump up into the top six; that has happened in the past. The Fifth Season is particularly compelling due to Jemisin’s three prior Best Novel Nebula nominations. I place a lot of stock in former nominations. But who would she replace? Leckie, who won two years ago and whose Ancillary series is one of the most critically acclaimed works of the decade? Ken Liu, who has 7 prior Nebula nominations for his short fiction? Uprooted, one of the most read and talked about fantasy novels of the year? Wilde, Gannon, and Schoen, all of whom have a large vote lead? I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jemisin make it, but I’d be suprirsed to see anyone else leap up.

So, here’s my prediction. These are in the order of who I think is most likely to get nominated, not who I think is most likely to win. Also, I predict who I think will get nominations, not who should get nominations. I’ll grind through my winning prediction after we get the nominees:

1. Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Lawrence Schoen: The absolute surprise of the SFWA Recommended Reading list, this SF novel about a post-human future came out at the very end of the year, too late too make any of the “year’s best lists.” Schoen does have 3 prior Nebula nominations (0 wins) in the Novella category over the past three years, so that familiarity helped him roar up the list. The Nebula has a history of helping push ignored novels in the past, and this seems to be another example of that. It’s still lightly read, at least according to Amazon and Goodreads; a Nebula nomiation would bring it a lot of attention. If Barsk gets nominated, that will also give us some great data about how much a Nebula nomination impacts the Hugos.

2. Raising Caine, Charles Gannon: Gannon has become a favorite of the Nebulas (the new McDevitt?), with two prior Best Novel nominations for this same series. Raising Caine mixes it up, giving us a contact/strange planet story. It’s length (almost 800 pages) and place in a series (#3) would normally be strikes against getting a Nebula nom, but with such a high placement on the SFWA list, Gannon seems like a safe bet again.

3. Updraft, Fran Wilde: Wilde’s book hovers (I couldn’t resist the bad pun) in the territory between YA and Adult, and may grab a Norton (the Nebula’s YA category) nomination this year as well. If it does, this might signal a shift for the Nebulas, with a willingness to nominate more YA books not by Neil Gaiman. Wilde would be new to the Nebulas, having 0 prior nominations.

4. Uprooted, Naomi Novik: Novik has almost every metric going for her: good sales, good placement on year-end lists, strong fan response. She has no Nebula history (0 nominations), although she did a grab a Hugo best novel nomination back in 2007 for Temeraire. Novik was at the top of the SFWA Recommended Reading list when it debuted, but she hasn’t picked up much steam sense. Still, I think this is a safe bet and a strong contender to win the Nebula.

5. Grace of Kings, Ken Liu: Liu has been a recent Nebula darling : 7 short fiction nominations since 2012. This is his first novel, and since the Nebula audience is already very familiar with his short fiction from prior nominations, that brings a lot of eyeballs to the text. In Chaos Horizon predictions, eyeballs = possible voters. Ken also scored a Best Novel nomination last year for translating Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem.

6. Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie: Leckie is coming off of two straight Nebula nominations for this series, including her win for Ancillary Justice in 2014. I don’t expect anything to change this year; the final volume was well-received as a fitting conclusion to this trilogy. Could there be a little Leckie fatigue though: after so many awards over the past 2 years, could Nebula voters want to nominate someone else?

7. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin: Jemisin has three prior best novel Nebula noms in 2011, 2012, and 2013, which is every year she’s been eligible for the novel category (she’s published 5 novels, but some years she published more than one novel). If anyone can outperform their place on the list, I think it’s Jemisin.

At this point, let me break from the SFWA list and include some possible strong competitors from lower down:

8. Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear: Bear seems like a possible contender with her unique setting and decent placement on the SFWA list. In the negative column, she has 0 total Nebula nominations ever, and Karen Memory doesn’t perform particularly well in popularity metrics. The 19th century steampunk setting might be a challenge for some voters as well.

9. Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson has been a perennial Nebula favorite (12 total nominations, 3 wins, including Best Novel wins for 2312 in 2013 and Red Mars back in 1994). Even though he’s tied #15 on the SFWA list, this is a kind of Hard SF novel that appeals to the SF wing of the Nebulas; that group has always had enough votes to put 1-2 books on every Nebula ballot in recent years. If anyone dramatically outperforms their SFWA list placement, it could be Robinson.

10. The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi: If Aurora doesn’t make it, this book is the other logical choice for a SF novel from a recent winner. Bacigalupi roared to huge Nebula and Hugo success with The Windup Girl back in 2010, and this is his first proper “adult” SF novel since then. 5 years is an eternity in these awards—has his popularity cooled off?

Everyone else seems unlikely. Cixin Liu got a nomination last year, but The Dark Forest is way down the list at #15. Maybe a book like The Traitor Baru Cormorant or The House of Shattered Wings has some buzz I’m not seeing, so those might be possibilities. Cat Rambo could grab support for Beasts of Tabat, but her position as SFWA President would seem to be a significant conflict of interest in taking a nomination. Laura Anne Gilman did get a Nebula Best Novel nomination back in 2010, so Silver on the Road is a possibility. The Nebulas have only ever nominated Stephenson once, back in 1994, so I don’t see Seveneves as having any real chance. It’s probably best never to count McDevitt completely out, but Thunderbird didn’t do well on the list this year.

There’s also an outside possibility that the SFWA Recommended Reading list won’t be predictive this year. Maybe making it public changed the dynamic so much that it’s no longer accurate. We won’t know that until the noms come out, though.

The fun thing about predicting is that we’ll know the answers soon. Nebula nominations should be announced shortly. Then it’s on to the Hugos: controversy ahoy!

Final 2015 SFWA Recommended Reading List

Nebula voting closed yesterday, and we should get the Nebula nominees sometime soon (around a week or so).

This year, Nebula prediction has been great simplified because the SFWA has included a “Recommended Reading List” for their categories. This list has, in the past, been highly predictive of the Nebulas, to the point that this data overshadows all other predictive data we might find. While we might not have the 6 Nebula nominees = the Top 6 from the recommended list, I’d expect the top 3 or 4 from the list to make it for sure, and then have the final nominees drawn somewhere from recommended items #5-#10.

I’ve been keeping tabs on the list, so let’s check in on the final 2015 numbers:

Table 1: Number of Recommendations on the SFWA 2015 Best Novel Recommended Reading List

SFWA Feb 15 2016 Data

Gannon and Schoen have shot up this list like rockets, going from nowhere in November to dominating by the end. Those 34 and 33 numbers are so impressive it’s hard to imagine them not getting Nebula nominations at this point. Overall, there were 728 total recommendations; that has to represent a substantial amount of the final Nebula nomination vote. Gannon and Schoen will raise some eyebrows if they get nominations; these SF books certainly got less press, acclaim, and online discussion than other SF books like Sevenves or Aurora. The Nebula is quirky like this, often favoring smaller authors over the big names. If they get nominated, I think the question is whether or not one of those books can win. Will Gannon follow the McDevitt route—get nominated enough and eventually you’ll win? Will Barsk grab a ton of new readers and take the Nebula? I think there’s a definite advantage to being fresh in your voters’ minds.

Updraft now seems like a very safe bet, having picked up an impressive 19 recommendations from November. This may show up in both the Norton (the Nebula YA category) and the Best Novel category. Could Schoen and Gannon split the SF vote, opening the way for a Wilde win?

I had Uprooted by Naomi Novik pegged as an early Nebula favorite, but I’m surprised at how few votes it’s picked up since November, with only 4. Maybe everyone who was going to read Uprooted had read it by then, while authors like Schoen and Wilde were attracting new readers. That can’t be good for Novik’s chances.

Ken Liu has a number of past Nebula nominations, and should be a strong contender for his first Best Novel nomination. Leckie has great Nebula history, with a win 2 years ago and a nomination last year. Jemisin has 3 prior Best Novel nominations. I expect the three of them to fight it out for two spots. It may be that Leckie is the odd-author out: she’s gotten so much acclaim and so many awards for this series already that voters may want to give a different writer a chance.

Cat Rambo is the current President of the SFWA, and I can’t see her accepting a nomination even if she gets the votes. Karen Memory was an interesting possibility, but it’s only picked up 2 votes in the past 3 months. Where’s the enthusiasm for Bear?

I don’t see any good chance for writers lower down on the list to jump upward. The House of Shattered Wings got a BSFA nomination, so maybe that gives Aliette de Bodard some momentum. The Traitor Baru Cormorant got good buzz a few months ago, and 18 is a solid vote total. I just don’t know who those books would leapfrog to get up into the top 6.

I’ll update my Nebula prediction tomorrow. We look like we’re in for an interesting year; not many people have read Barsk yet, and Schoen/Gannon/Wilde nominations would give the Nebulas a very unique feel in 2016.

Checking Back in with the SFWA Recommended Reading List

The 2016 Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards circus is heating up. We’re probably about 3 weeks away from having this year’s Nebula nominations announced. Let’s check back in with the SFWA Recommended Reading list to see who’s likely to get a Nebula nomination.

Having access to the SFWA Recommended Reading list has been extremely helpful in predicting the Nebulas this year, so much so that it basically overwhelms all other data that we might have. If we have good data, Chaos Horizon will use it; I’d rather be correct than interesting or edgy.

I’ve been keeping track of the SFWA list to see which books are heating up, and it’s intriguing to see who the breakthroughs are. Let’s take a look at a chart comparing the recommendation totals from the end of November to the first of February. The SFWA list is constantly updating, so my chart may be outdated as soon as I put it up. I pulled the numbers down by cutting and pasting the data myself:

Table 1: Number of Recommendations on the SFWA 2015 Recommended Reading List

SFWA Data Feb 2016.png

What does this tell us? That Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk has emerged as a major Nebula contender, despite being lightly read (as of January 30th, this only has 93 ratings on Goodreads, 31 on Amazon, much much lower than other Nebula/Hugo contenders). That’s due in part to Schoen’s late publication date: the novel came out on December 29, 2015. That’s a tough time to come out, as you get lost in the post-Christmas malaise. A Nebula nomination would drive a lot of attention to this book. Schoen now seems like a very good bet for the Nebula, particularly when we factor in that he received Nebula nominations in the Best Novella category in 2013, 2014, and 2015. There’s clearly a subset of Nebula voters that really like Schoen’s work; a Best Novel nomination might be a spark that gets him more read by the rest of us.

I initially thought that Fran Wilde’s Updraft would grab a Norton nomination, the SFWA’s Young Adult category, but not a Nebula, on the logic that voters won’t want to nominate the same book twice on the same ballot. Wilde’s strong showing in the recommended reading list means I’m abandoning that logic; I now think she’ll pull the rare double of receiving both a Nebula and a Norton nomination. Giving the rising interest in YA fiction over the past 10 years, this might be a foreshadowing of things to come.

Lastly, Gannon is leaping up the list impressively. Gannon is coming off 2 straight Nebula nominations for books in this series; if he had enough support in previous years, why wouldn’t he have enough support this year? In 2015, Trial by Fire wound up with 23 recommendations and the #2 spot on the SFWA list on its way to a nomination. 19 is most of the way there. Gannon may be the new McDevitt: expect another nom.

If I were predicting the Nebula today, here’s what I would go with, in order of how confident I am of them getting a nomination:

1. Uprooted, Naomi Novik
2. Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
3. Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen
4. Raising Caine, Charles Gannon
5. Updraft, Fran Wilde
6. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

with Grace of Kings by Ken Liu at #7 and Karen Memory at #8. I have Jemisin ahead of both Liu and Bear based on her prior history in this category, although an argument that Liu also has a strong Nebula history would be pretty compelling. I’ll probably wait until the Nebula nomination period closes on February 15th to update my official prediction. Best to wait and see if any other books start picking up votes. There’s still 15 days left!

What do you think? Is Barsk now the Nebula favorite?

2016 Nebula Prediction 1.0

Well, it’s the new year, so time to roll up our sleeves and get started. Let’s begin with my first 2016 Nebula prediction. Remember, I try to predict what will happen, based on past evidence and patterns in the Nebulas and various lists and data from this year, rather than what should happen. These are my opinions, so they have no particularly authority, and I always think Chaos Horizon is best used in conjunction with other opinions and websites on the internet.

Predicting the Nebulas this year was made much easier since the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the group that administers the Nebulas, made their “Recommended Reading List” public. Remember, the Nebulas are a vote of SFWA members; by making their recommendations public, we get a good idea of the direction these awards are leaning. Last year, the final Recommended List correctly predicted 4/6 of the final nominees (the other two nominees were in spots #7 and #8). Since Chaos Horizon always uses the past year as a guide for the next year’s prediction, I predict something similar will happen this year.

If you look at the SFWA list as of right now (January 1), we can see that the top of the list is too heavily slanted towards Fantasy when compared to Nebula history. 5 of the top 6 are Fantasy novels (Leckie being the only SF), as are 8 of the top 10. I suspect one or two of the SF novels will creep up the list over time. Right now, I’m looking at a gang of four: either a novel by a past Nebula winner (Aurora by Kim Stanely Robinson (tied #11) or The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (also tied at #11)), Thunderbird by perennial Nebula favorite Jack McDevitt, or Raising Caine by Charles Gannon, #3 in a series that garnered Nebula noms in 2013 and 2014. One or two of these books making the final ballot would create a more balance Fantasy/SF ratio.

According to the SFWA website, the nomination period runs from November 15th to February 15th. Last year, the Nebula nominees were announced on February 20th.

The Nebulas nominate 6 novels in the category.

Here’s my initial prediction, as of January 1, 2016:

1. Uprooted, Naomi Novik: Novik has almost every metric going for her: good sales, good placement on year-end lists, strong fan response. She has no Nebula history (0 nominations), although she did a grab a Hugo best novel nomination back in 2007 for Temeraire. I’ve got this #1 because I see it as the “buzziest” book of the year; it’s also #1 on the SFWA recommendations. Why second-guess the data?

2. Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie: Leckie is coming off of two straight Nebula nominations for this series, including her win for Ancillary Justice in 2014. I don’t expect anything to change this year; the final volume was well-received as a fitting conclusion to this trilogy. As of January 1, 2016, she’s #6 on the SFWA recommended list.

3. Grace of Kings, Ken Liu: Liu has been a recent Nebula darling : 7 short fiction nominations since 2012. This is his first novel, and since the Nebula audience is already very familiar with his short fiction from prior nominations, that brings a lot of eyeballs to the text. In Chaos Horizon predictions, eyeballs = possible voters. It’s also #2 on the SFWA Nebula recommendations list, and he scored a Best Novel nomination last year for translating Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem.

4. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin: Jemisin has three prior best novel Nebula noms in 2011, 2012, and 2013, which is every year she’s been eligible for the novel category (she’s published 5 novels, but some years she published more than one novel). She’s at 8th on the recommended list, but with that strong Nebula history, I think she’s a good bet for a nomination this year.

5. Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson has been a perennial Nebula favorite (12 total nominations, 3 wins, including Best Novel wins for 2312 in 2013 and Red Mars back in 1994). Even though he’s tied #14 on the SFWA list, this is a kind of Hard SF novel that appeals to the SF wing of the Nebulas; that group has always had enough votes to put 1-2 books on every Nebula ballot.

6. Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear: I’m less certain about the Bear. Her high placement on the SFWA list (#3), as well as the generally positive reception of the book, would seem to place her in good stead. In the negative column, she has 0 total Nebula nominations ever, and Karen Memory doesn’t perform particularly well in popularity metrics. The 19th century steampunk setting might be a challenge for some voters as well. I think any of the texts from 4-10 in my list has a real chance of making it this year.

7. Thunderbird, Jack McDevitt: The first rule of Nebula prognostication: you never count Jack McDevitt out. 12 Best Novel Nebula nominations, including 9 out of the past 12 years! This book is from one of his less popular series, and it came out very late in the year (December 1, 2015); otherwise, I’d have him higher.

8. The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi: If Aurora doesn’t make it, this book is the other logical choice for a SF novel from a recent winner. Bacigalupi roared to huge Nebula and Hugo success with The Windup Girl back in 2010, and this is his first proper “adult” SF novel since then. 5 years is an eternity in these awards—has his popularity cooled off? Or will he return to the ranks of the nominees?

9. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson: This placed #5 on the SFWA recommended list, so why do I have it so low? Genre, genre, genre: I can’t predict a Nebula with 5 or 6 fantasy novels in it, and I think Dickinson has to be slotted behind the other more obvious fantasy contenders. Keep an eye to see if this picks up steam in January.

10. Raising Caine, Charles Gannon: I place a lot of stock in Gannon’s two previous nominations in 2014 and 2015 for books from this series. He’s currently only at 4 votes in the SFWA list (versus 23 last year). Is this an indication of poor reception of Raising Caine or am I looking at the list too early? If that number increases, expect him to rise in my prediction.

11. Updraft, Fran Wilde: Currently #4 on the SFWA list, I think this is more likely to get a nomination in the Andre Norton (the Young Adult category, where it sits at #1 in the recommendations). While nothing prevents a novel from getting both a Nebula and a Norton nomination, I don’t see nominators voting for the same book in 2 different categories.

12. The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu: You’d think the sequel to last year’s Hugo winner and Nebula nominee would be higher in the recommended list, but The Dark Forest currently doesn’t make the SFWA recommended list at all. I don’t know how to explain that (maybe Ken Liu, who translated The Three-Body Problem but not this volume, was the name that brought the Nebula voters?), but you got to go by the stats. Last year’s Hugo win and Nebula nom should at least keep it in the mix.

13.Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, Lawrence Schoen: The surprise of this list, this places an impressive 7th on the SFWA list. This just came out December 29th, 2015; I think that’s too late for a Nebula book to pick up steam with the rest of the SFWA voters that don’t have access to early copies.

14. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson: You’d think Stephenson would be neck-and-neck with the Robinson and Bacigalupi, but the Nebulas have never liked Stephenson much. He only has 1 nomination back in 1997 for Diamond Age and zero wins. If the Nebulas ignored Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Anathem, why would you predict this? It’s tied for #16 on the current recommendations.

15. Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho: If one of the fantasy novels higher on the list falters, Cho’s book could stand poised to take it’s place. Somewhat similar in setting to the well-liked Hugo/Nebula winning Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, this seems to hit some marks that previous Nebula voters have liked.

So, there’s my initial Top #15 Nebula list! Remember, this is a starting place, not the finishing place, and these awards can be very dynamic between January-February, with lots of shifts as books pick up steam. So, what do you think? Did I miss any obvious contenders? Thinks someone should be higher or lower? Argue away in the comments, and happy predicting!

Hugo/Nebula Contenders and Popularity, December 2015

It’s the end of the month, so let’s check in on Goodreads and Amazon popularity (as measured by number of rankings) for various Hugo and Nebula contenders. This is one of many different measures I look at when predicting the Hugo and Nebula nominees.

As I’ve said before, this data is interesting but not necessarily predictive for the Hugos and the Nebulas. Goodreads and Amazon # of rankings doesn’t accurately measure popularity; they measure popularity with the Goodreads and Amazon crowds, which may or may not be well-synced up with Hugo or Nebula voters. We have no real access to sales number to actually measure books sold, so this is about the best we can do. Historically, being popular hasn’t helped much for the Nebulas. For the Hugos, it matters more, but only when that popularity is combined with strong critical response and past Hugo history.

I’m slowly migrating all my data over to Google Sheets and the cloud, so that you can look at and process the data any way you want. Here’s the link.

Table #1: Popularity of Hugo/Nebula Contenders on Goodreads, December 2015Goodreads December 2015 Chart

Table #2: Popularity of Hugo/Nebula Contenders on Amazon, December 2015Amazon December 2015 Chart

It’s interesting how static these charts are; no one really moved up or down more than 2 spots from November to January. I also track some books that aren’t contenders (Armada, for instance), just to give us some reference.

What does this mean for the Hugos? Well, Uprooted and Seveneves are hugely popular books this year, with 4 or 5 times more rankings than other award contenders like The Fifth Season or Ancillary Mercy. Even though someone like Stephenson may prove divisive (lots of people love or hate that book), the sheer number of readers may translate into more voters. Remember, you can’t vote against a book in the nomination stage. All that matters is how many people like a book, not how many hate it; the reverse can be true on the final ballot. The huge number of rankings for Novik and Stephenson is why I’ll have them very high in my initial Hugo predictions.

On the flip side, a book like Karen Memory is languishing with only 1,500 Goodreads ratings / 75 even though it came out in February. I don’t think that’s enough readers to drive Bear to a Hugo nomination in a competitive year, but only time will tell. I often use these popularity charts to distinguish between similar books. If Dickinson, Cho, Liu, Jemisin, and Novik all vaguely fall under the category of “experimental fantasy,” I’ll pick Novik/Jemisin over Liu/Cho/Dickinson based on their apparent popularity, using the theory more readers = more votes. Hopefully once I have several years of data I can find a more solid correlation, although one certainly isn’t visible yet.

Lastly, it’s fascinating at how different the Amazon rankings are than Goodreads. Why does Goodreads like Armada more than Seveneves? A book like A Long Time Until Now does terribly on Goodreads but well on Amazon (#12 on my Amazon chart, #28 on my Goodreads chart). Darker Shade of Magic is loved on Goodreads but middle-of-the-pack on Amazon. This goes to show how fundamentally different these audiences are. We shouldn’t trust either. Instead, I boost a book’s chances when it’s high across many of my different lists: if Uprooted is #2 on my Goodreads list, #3 on my Amazon list, #1 on the SFWA list, #1 on the Goodreads vote, #7 on my Mainstream Critics list, #1 on my SFF Critics list, etc., shouldn’t I predict it near the top? Throw in past Hugo/Nebula history, and that’s how the Chaos Horizon logic works; make what you will of it.

Later this month (let’s say mid-January) I’ll look to see what the ranking score is for each of these texts. Those scores don’t change much over time, so it hasn’t been worth tracking them month to month. I’ve also not found any correlation between the ranking score and award chances.

Let’s finish with a threat: I’ve gathered enough lists, 2016 is almost upon us, so I’ll make my first Nebula and Hugo predictions tomorrow!

Best of 2015: Reviewers’ Choice

A few weeks ago, the 2015 Reviewers’ Choice list came out. Over the past several years, this has been an important list to track for several reasons. First, it gathers recommendations from 11 critics, making it a collated list of its own. Second, it has been fairly well synced up to the Hugos and Nebulas, at least before the campaigning of last year. In 2013, they recommended Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice three times; it swept the Hugo and Nebula. Last year, Goblin Emperor was recommended 3 times; it scores Hugo and Nebula noms and that could very well have won the Hugo if not for the Puppies.

I’ll eventually include this list in my SFF Critics Meta-List, but for that I’ll only give each book mentioned one vote to keep the stats lined up. In this post, I’ll collate how many times the 11 critics mentioned each book, to see if there’s a winner. I don’t count honorable mentions, and I don’t decide whether a book is a novel or not, or eligible or not. You’re mentioned as the top of the year, you make it. Without further ado, here are the results of books that got more than one recommendation:

3 mentions: Uprooted, Naomi Novik
2 mentions: Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
2 mentions: Escape from Baghdad!, Saad Hossain

No surprise to see Uprooted at the top of another list (it’s also leading the SFWA recommended list). At this point, I think it’s clear to say that Uprooted is the Hugo and Nebula front-runner. Escape from Baghdad! was a surprise, but 2 mentions is hardly dominant. Zen Cho has done fairly well so far this “Best Of” season and has a shot at the Nebula.

The list was light on SF this year. Only one mention of Seveneves, and none of Aurora, The Water Knife, or Nemesis Games, just to pick three SF novels that have been getting attention elsewhere.

This lists become more valuable the more of them we get. Eventually, I’ll gather all the lists I find from big SFF websites into one Meta-List. If you want the sneak-preview, here it is. Only two lists so far ( and the Barnes and Noble SF Blog), so it’s not very useful (yet!).

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