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Best of 2014: SF Signal

I’m still sorting through the methodology of the SFF Critics meta-list: currently, the idea is to include all “Best of 2014” lists by “major” SFF critics. Now, defining “major” is the awkward issue. Remember, the goal of Chaos Horizon is to build a predictive model for the Hugo and Nebula Awards—not to achieve some impossible goal of determining what is the “best” novel of the year, but rather what lists are likely to influence the Hugo/Nebula—so, as of now, I’m building this from three things:

1. “Best of Lists” by the mainstream SFF websites: LocusMagazine, Tor.com, io9, basically anything that a ton of possible SFWA or WorldCon voters will see.
2. “Best of Lists” by well-known SFF authors, such as Adam Roberts’ list for The Guardian.
3. “Best of Lists” published by Hugo nominated blogs, fansites, and semiprozines. Given that the Hugo voting audience probably knows these outlets, it makes a certain amount of sense they’d look in that direction. There’s a definite feedback loop in the Hugos, as seen by the sheer number of Repeat nominees.

The collating methodology is a little complicated, since a number of these lists (including today’s SF Signal list) are made up of multiple critics. See my Strange Horizons posts for details on how I’m handling points.

All these various lists will be collated, and we’ll see where we get. Since these’ll be in an Excel file, we can sort them and see which ones actually correlate to the Hugos/Nebulas when the time comes.

Today, I’ll be looking at SF Signal’s “MINDMELD: Best Genre Works of 2014.” SF Signal won the Hugo for Best Fanzine in 2012 and 2013. For their “Best of 2014” post, they invited 14 bloggers, authors, and critics to cover their favorite novels, stories, movies, anime, comics, etc. This kind of broad meta-post gives some great insight into what SFF enthusiasts are thinking about the year in review.

For my list, I went through and noted the novels promoted as the “Best of 2014.” Here’s the list:

3 mentions: The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
2 mentions: Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Everyone else was mentioned once:
A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar
Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes
Child of a Hidden Sea, A.M. Dellamonica
Coming Home, Jack McDevitt
Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry
Dreams of the Golden Age, Carrie Vaughn
Frost Burned, Patricia Briggs
Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
Murder of Crows, Anne Bishop
Our Lady of the Islands, Shannon Page and Jay Lake
Prince of Shadows, Rachel Caine
Shimmer, Paul Weston
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt
The Burning Room, Michael Connelly
The Clockwork Dagger, Beth Cato
The Fictional Woman, Tara Moss
The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
The King’s Deryni, Katherine Kurtz
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black, Brendan Connell
The Secret Place, Tana French
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
Tigerman, Nick Harkaway
Unwrapped Sky, Rjurik Davidson
Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal
Wickedly Dangerous, Deborah Blake

The more fan-oriented these lists have been, the better The Goblin Emperor has done. When they’re more professional critic oriented, Annihilation shines. Does that mean a Nebula for VanderMeer and a Hugo nomination for Addison?

It’s interesting who doesn’t make the list: VanderMeer, Robert Jackson Bennett, David Mitchell. You figure 1 out of 14 critics would have praised those books, given how widely read they were this year. This might indicate that said books are not reaching every part of SFF fandom. However, you can’t overvalue one last, even if it does include 14 different critics.

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Best of 2014: Strange Horizons

Now that I’ve put up the Mainstream Best of 2014 Meta-List, I can move on to the far more interesting (and predictive) SFF Critics Meta-List. I’m starting today with Strange Horizons, because their “Best of 2014” list causes on immediate methodological crisis. Thanks, Niall!

Like many of these posts from bigger publications, Strange Horizons is a meta-list unto itself, including short paragraphs highlighting the “Best of 2014” from 18 different critics. These critics represent a large range of important voices in the field, including Hugo nominated authors and fan writers. Of course, Strange Horizons was itself a Hugo nominee for semiprozine (whatever that means) in 2013 and 2014, and is thus likely to carry a fair amount of weight with Hugo voters.

All good so far, and this is exactly what I’m looking for in a predictive list. I figure we collate this list against other similar lists, and we’ll have another indicator of likely Hugo/Nebula nominees and winners. I then collate the indicators, and bam!, I have my predictive model.

My processing practice so far has been to read through the lists and every time a critic mentions a book as a “Best of 2014” (honorable mentions don’t count), to give it 1 point. Simple, or so I thought. In my previous SFF Critics Meta-List collation, I let each mention count for one vote. Thus, since 3 critics from Tor.com’s list mentioned The Goblin Emperor, it got 3 votes. This helped Goblin Emperor win the first collation.

That multiple votes per list is becoming a problem. Here’s the Strange Horizon list (absent Adam Robert’s choices, since I already collated them from The Guardian article he wrote, and I didn’t want his choices to count twice):

5 mentions: Annihilation/Southern Reach, VanderMeer, Jeff
2 mentions: J, Jacobson, Howard
2 mentions: The Race, Allan, Nina
2 mentions: Fire in the Unnamable Country, Islam, Ghalib
Everyone else got 1 mention each:
Europe in Autumn, Hutchinson, David
All those Vanished Engines, Park, Paul
Boy, Snow, Bird, Oyeyemi, Helen
Steles of the Sky, Bear, Elizabeth
Ancillary Sword, Leckie, Ann
Broken Monsters, Beukes, Lauren
The Bone Clocks, Mitchell, David
The Wake, Kingsnorth, Paul
Of Things Gone Astray, Matthewson, Janina
The Causal Angel, Rajaniemi, Hannu
Wolf in White Van, Darnielle, John
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Walton, Leslye
The Angel of Losses, Feldman, Stephanie
The Department of Speculation, Offill, Jenny
Tigerman, Harkaway, Nick
The Girl in the Road, Byrne, Monica
Nigerians in Space, Olukotun, Deji Bryce

A good list, broad and deep, with mentions of plenty of the front-runners for the Nebula and Hugo. But can I really give Annihilation 5 points from one list? Clearly, VanderMeer won the Strange Horizons betting pool, but how much influence can I give one publication? If I collate 5 votes, that means Strange Horizons will dominate my meta-list. Not cool. On the other hand, anyone who reads this Best of 2014 is likely to come away with the feeling they better read Annihilation, so is it fair to give it only 1 point? Does that accurately reflect the intent/effect of the article?

Like I said, methodological crisis. Our only option: panic!

Fortunately, Chaos Horizon is just for fun. I’m putting together a list that may or may not predict the Hugos and Nebulas, and, even when I do, we’re only looking at a few hundred data points, not enough to be statistically sound. For the time being, I’m going to give a list like Strange Horizons (and Tor.com, and SF Signal) a maximum of 2 points. Everyone who appears at least once, gets 1 point. That final point will be scaled against the multiple mentions. So the top of the Strange Horizons lists will look like this in the collation:

2 points: Annihilation/Southern Reach, VanderMeer, Jeff
1.25 points: J, Jacobson, Howard
1.25 points: The Race, Allan, Nina
1.25 points: Fire in the Unnamable Country, Islam, Ghalib

So, beyond the initial mentions, VanderMeer got 4 more mentions. 4/4 = 1. Howard got 1 more mention, 1/4 = .25. What do you think? Fair? Unfair?

I’ll be back tomorrow with SF Signal’s list and some more comments on the methodology for the SFF Critics Meta-List, and then I’ll recollate the list. Things are heating up this award season, so it’ll be interesting to see who pulls ahead with my evolving SFF Critics list methodology.

Best of 2014: io9.com’s List

Happy New Year, everyone! I’ve been off holidaying for the past week or two—the wife and I got down to Santa Fe (we live about an hour away), which is always nice this time of year. I’ll be resuming the Genre study shortly, with more information on the types of fantasy novels that have been nominated. As I organize my thoughts, here’s one of the more reliable “Best of 2014” lists: the io9.com list by Charlie Jane Anders. The list offers a broad 22 works, including one story collection. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
Broken Monsters, Lauren Buekes
The Book of Strange New things, Michel Faber
The Peripheral, William Gibson
Maplecroft, Cherie Priest
Lock In, John Scalzi
Questionable Practices, Eileen Gunn (short stories)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert
California, Edan Lepucki
Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone
Rooms, Lauren Oliver
The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey
First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
The Martian, Andy Weir
My Real Children, Jo Walton
Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer
Defenders, Will McIntosh
The Bees, Laline Paull
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley

The major snubs: City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett; Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie; The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

io9.com has been one of the better lists over the last 2-3 years for predicting the Nebulas. In 2013, 5 out of the 8 eventual nominees appeared on the list, including the winner; in 2012, 3 out of the 6 Nebula nominees appeared on their list, including the winner. That’s as good as anyone’s list has been (in terms of correlating to the Nebula) over the past few years.

So, what are our takeaways? We see some of the big books of the year: the VanderMeer, the Weir, etc. Mandel’s placement further shows how “buzzy” her book is right now; this level of noise for Station Eleven is making a Nebula nomination more and more likely. Leckie’s absence shows that people aren’t as excited for her sequel as they were the original; this jibes with my sense (nomination likely, win unlikely). Gibson is picking up some nice traction, and The Peripheral is certainly better liked than his past few novels. I’m glad Liu made it, but this might be a case of “too little, too late” for his novel to catch on with a larger SFF audience.

City of Stairs not making the list is the surprise, but Robert Jackson Bennett’s book might not be mainstream enough for io9.com. I think there’s an argument to be made that the massive sales of Mitchell, VanderMeer, and Mandel place them in a different category than Bennett or Addison in terms of these awards. Grossman has the popularity and critical respect to be a player in this year’s Nebula and Hugo—if the book weren’t #3 in a series. Will the Jordan/Sanderson nomination last year loosen the anti-sequel bias of the awards? Or would any loosening of that bias aid Sanderson and not Grossman?

I’m seeing California pop-up too often on these lists, and I’m going to add it to my Nebula prediction (somewhere down in the #10-#15 range). Otherwise, this list re-enforces what we already know about the awards: our major players are still the major players, with Mandel playing the part of a late-charging challenger.

Best of 2014: LA Times, A.V. Club, Wall Street Journal

A couple more mainstream lists this week. The LA Times delivers a Holiday Book Guide with both a Fiction and a SF/Fantasy section. Their selections are pretty standard:

Fiction:
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

SF/Fantasy:
Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes
Bathing the Lion, Jonathan Carroll
The Peripheral, William Gibson
Revival, Stephen King
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
Mapelcroft, Cherie Priest
Lock In, John Scalzi
Annihilation/Area X, Jeff VanderMeer

Except for some unusual love given to Maplecroft and The Three-Body Problem, that’s basically what we’ve seen from most other mainstream lists.

The A.V. Club also gave a “Best of 2014” list, covering all genres. SFF did remarkably well, with the following making the cut (out of 17 total books listed):

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
The Martian, Andy Weir
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman
Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi
Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson

These two lists pretty much reproduce what we already know from my Mainstream Meta-List: mainstream outlets love Mitchell, and after that Weir, VanderMeer, Grossman, etc., compete for the next spots. These mainstream lists don’t dig deeply enough into SFF to recognize books like City of Stairs. As such, these mainstream lists won’t correlate to the Hugos/Nebulas, but they will sell books, and selling books will improve award chances. I expect Mitchell, etc., to do very well come Nebula season.

Update: Just found a list from the Wall Street Journal. No dedicate SFF list, but The Martian by Andy Weir made the General Top 10.

Best of 2014: Tor.com’s Reviewer’s Choice

One of the most important “Best of” lists appeared today, Tor.com’s Reviewer’s Choice. Over the past several years, this has been a great indicator of the eventual Hugo and Nebula slates. These choices are all by SFF reviewers, true genre-enthusiasts, and they tend to be tapped far more into fandom than the Mainstream Lists I’ve been collating earlier. As such, this list will factory heavily into my 2015 Hugo and 2015 Nebula predictions.

Along with io9.com, Tor.com is also one of the more viewed SFF websites, and posts like this organize and focus the Hugo and Nebula conversation. It was last year’s list that crystallized Ancillary Justice as a leading Hugo and Nebula contender, and look how that played out.

So, how do things break down this year? Tor.com asks each of 11 reviewers to list 2-3 books, so here’s the list ranked by number of mentions. For simplicity, I’ve only listed novels; the broader list includes collections and graphic novels.

The Goblin Emperor, Kate Addison (on 3 lists)
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (on 2 lists)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (on 2 lists)
Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb (on 2 lists)

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
Smiler’s Fair, Rebecca Levene
Nigerians in Space, Deji Olukoton
Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes
Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
The Fever, Megan Abbott
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
The Echo, James Smythe
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
The Burning Dark, Adam Christopher
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
Heap House, Edward Carey
Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
The World Exchange, Alena Gradeon
All Those Vanished Engines, Paul Park
And the list is filled with other short mentions (books that almost made the reviewer’s Top 3).

This is a broad list, and we can see the particularly likes and dislikes of the various reviewers emerging. That’s why the “multiple mention” authors are the most important; that shows strong, broad sentiment for specific works.

Addison’s strong showing is the biggest take-away here. At least for this group of reviewers, that’s the book that has emerged as the “must read” of 2014; I’ll be moving Addison up in my Predictions accordingly. Likewise, City of Stairs showed well, and I think both books now have an excellent chance of making the Nebula and Hugo slate.

Hobb did well, and she probably deserves a Hugo/Nebula for the scope of her long and important career. These kind of epic fantasy novels, though, have historically not grabbed Hugo or Nebula noms. But is that changing? Last year, Wheel of Time fans ran a successful campaign to get Jordan onto the ballot. Could something similar happen for Lev Grossman’s now completed Magicians trilogy? The popularity and critical sentiment seem to be there for Grossman, and I have to imagine the Magicians would have a serious shot at winning the Hugo if it were nominated.

My current Hugo and Nebula favorite, Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, didn’t do as well, with only one mention. Other potential candidates like William Gibson’s The Peripheral or Peter Watts’ Echopraxia didn’t get any love. I’m surprised no one even mentioned Andy Weir’s The Martian, given its runaway success in 2014.

We’re moving ever closer to awards season, and lists like this are going to set the tone for the debates we’ll have in 2015. So, did Tor.com do a good job?

Updated Best of 2014 Mainstream Meta-List

My collated list of “Best of 2014” list grows by the day! We’re up to 15 different “Best Books of 2014” lists already, which I think gives us a pretty good idea of what the mainstream world thinks of this year’s crop of SFF novels. What I’ve included in this list are the mainstream outlets (complete list at the bottom) such as The New York Times, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Barnes and Noble, NPR, basically anyone who is not specifically dedicate to reading and reviewing SFF. These kinds of outlets have a definite slant on speculative fiction, tending—by miles—to favor “literary” novels over “genre” novels, even if that distinction is often arbitrary.

So, without further ado, here’s the Top 20 of the list:

1. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: on 10 lists
2. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: on 8 lists
3. The Martian, Andy Weir: on 7 lists
3. The Peripheral, William Gibson: on 7 lists
3. Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi: on 7 lists
3. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: on 7 lists
7. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman: on 6 lists
8. On Such a Full Sea, Chang Rae-Lee: on 5 lists
9. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: on 4 lists
9. Tigerman, Nick Harkaway: on 4 lists
9. Lock In, John Scalzi: on 4 lists
9. The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber: on 4 lists
13. Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb: on 3 lists
13. Half a King, Joe Abercrombie: on 3 lists
13. The Broken Eye, Brent Weeks: on 3 lists
13. The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss: on 3 lists
13. Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson: on 3 lists
13. California, Edan Lepucki: on 3 lists

What does this list mean? This is the mainstream presses picks for the best SFF novel of 2014, nothing more, nothing less. This likely does not correlate to what SFF fans think are the best novels of 2014, although there will be some definite overlap. The list definitely reveals the biases of the mainstream: almost all the popular fantasy novels of the year are down at the bottom, where the popular literary novels of the year are up at the top. That’s what you would expect out of the mainstream; they’re very swayed by literary prestige.

Since Chaos Horizon is a website dedicated to predicting the Hugo and Nebula awards, what can we learn? Placement on this list means you’re getting lots of attention from the mainstream—and thus selling lots of books. That can only help your award chances. If you take a look at the top of the list and toss out some authors who won’t make the Nebula cut—Weir because he might not be eligible, Oyeyemi because she’s not speculative enough, Grossman because his book is the third in a series—you’d have a pretty decent Nebula prediction: Mitchell, VanderMeer, Gibson, Mandel, Lee, and Leckie. I doubt that many literary novels will make it—probably swap out Lee for City of Stairs—but you could do worse as a guess. The Hugo will probably float up the popular SF novels from slightly lower down the list like Scalzi and ignore the literary novels.

The list includes the following sources: Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Slate, Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, NY Times, NPR, Amazon, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Goodreads Choice Awards, Washington Post, Kirkus Review, Chicago Tribune, and Barnes and Noble.

If you want to dig deeper, here’s the Best of 2014 with all 87 novels that have appeared at least once on these 15 lists. Click at your own peril!

I think that’s about it for the mainstream—15 lists seems like a lot, and I don’t know if we can learn anything more by collating more lists. I’m looking forward to more SFF specific lists coming out. In the long run, those will tell us more about the Hugo and Nebulas than anything from the mainstream.

So, any surprises on the list? Any snubs? How close do you think this list will be to the eventual Hugo and Nebula slates?

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