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Updating the 2016 Awards Meta-List

I’m back from vacation—always important to leave the internet behind for a while. When am I actually going to do my reading? I had a grand old time touring New Mexico, Colorado, and Oregon.

Quite a bit happened in the last few months. Chaos Horizon will spend this week catching up, and then make my 2016 Hugo prediction once the Hugo voting closes at the end of July. I’ll also have my too-early 2017 Hugo and Nebula lists up soon. Beware!

A lot of other SFF nominations and awards have been handed out in the past few weeks. These are good indication of who will win the eventual Hugo—every award nomination raises visibility, and the awards that using votes are often good predictors of who will win the Hugo. Lastly, the full range of SFF awards gives us a better sense of what the “major” books of the year than the Hugo or Nebula alone. Since each award is idiosyncratic, a book that emerges across all 14 is doing something right.

Here’s the top of the list, and the full list is linked here. Total number of nominations is on the far left.

5 The Fifth Season Jemisin, N.K.
5 Uprooted Novik, Naomi
4 Europe at Midnight Hutchinson, Dave
4 Seveneves Stephenson, Neal
3 Ancillary Mercy Leckie, Anne
2 The House of Shattered Wings Bodard, Aliette de
2 Apex Naam, Ramez
2 A Borrowed Man Wolfe, Gene
2 Luna: New Moon McDonald, Ian
2 The Thing Itself Roberts, Adam
2 The Book of Phoenix Okorafor, Nnedi
2 The Water Knife Bacigalupi, Paolo
2 Aurora Robinson, Kim Stanley

No dominant book this year. At the top of the list are the Hugo nominees, with Europe at Midnight swapped out for the Jim Butcher novel. Butcher has no nominations other than his Hugo, and since The Cinder Spires is a fantasy novel, it was certainly more likely for these awards than his urban fantasy Dresden series.

On to the top contenders:

Since we last checked, Uprooted picked up wins in the Nebula, Locus Fantasy, as well as two more nominations in the British Fantasy and World Fantasy awards. She’s now beaten Jemisin head to head in two voted awards (the Locus Fantasy and Nebula). While neither of those perfectly mirror the Hugo voting audience, I place a lot of stock in those past wins heading into the Hugo.

While Jemisin has 5 nominations, she has zero wins so far. The other Hugo nominees have all managed at least one: Seveneves in the libertarian Prometheus (not a good indicator of future Hugo success), Ancillary Mercy in the Locus SF, and Uprooted in the Nebula and Locus Fantasy.

Hutchinson does well in the British awards (Clarke, BSFA, Kistchies) and poorly in the American ones (only managing a Campbell). This shows, to me at least, a divide between European and American SF readerships. Since the Hugos are in Finland next year, we will see a very different set of Hugo nominees? I don’t think Hutchinson has a novel out in 2016,  but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Otherwise, no other books are really emerging as “consensus” books that the Hugos missed. All the awards have nominated, and about have half have given their awards. Aurora did more poorly than I would have expected given Robinson’s reputation. Same with The Water Knife; I expected Bacigalupi’s follow-up to The Windup Girl to garner more attention. Maybe 5 years is too long between novels? Who knows.

Interestingly, of the 7 Nebula nominees, 4 (Schoen, Wilde, Gannon, and Ken Liu) didn’t receive any other nominations in the 14 awards I track. A big surprise for me was Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest, which had 5 nominations last year (Hugo winner, Nebula, Locus SF, Prometheus, Campbell), and got 0 this year.

Anything else useful to be learned from the list this year?

 

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Checking in with the 2016 Awards Meta-List

For this Meta-List, I track 15 of the biggest SFF awards. Since each award has its own methodologies, biases, and blind spots, this gives us more of a 10,000 foot view of the field, to see if there are any consensus books emerging.

As of early May we have nominees for 10 of the 15 awards. I track the following awards: Clarke, British Fantasy, British SF, Campbell, Compton Crook, Gemmell, Hugo, Kitschies, Locus SF, Locus Fantasy, Nebula, Dick, Prometheus, Tiptree, World Fantasy. I ignore the first novel awards.

Here’s the current results:

4 nominations: The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.
3 nominations: Europe at Midnight, Hutchinson, Dave
3 nominations: Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Anne
3 nominations: Uprooted, Novik, Naomi
3 nominations: Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal
2 nominations: The House of Shattered Wings, Bodard, Aliette de
2 nominations: Apex, Naam, Ramez
2 nominations: A Borrowed Man, Wolfe, Gene

Everyone else has 1.

As you can see, the top of that list correlates very well to the Hugo awards. Dave Hutchinson is very well-liked by the British based awards and largely ignored by American awards. With nominations in the Hugos, Nebulas, Kitschies, and Locus Fantasy, Jemisin is leading the way this year. Does this make her a favorite for the Nebulas this weekend? Or is she so neck and neck with Leckie and Novik that we don’t learn anything form this list?

No book has really broken out of the pack, like when Ancillary Justice took a huge lead a few years ago. I think we’ll have a close season with different books winning the different awards.

Here’s the whole spreadsheet, with links to every award I track.

Final Best of 2015 SFF Critics Meta-List

To supplement the mainstream’s view of SFF, I also collate 10 different lists by SFF critics. Rules are the same: appear on a list, get 1 point.

For this list, I’ve been looking for SFF critics who are likely to reflect the tastes of the Hugo award voters. That way, my list will be as predictive as possible. I’m currently using some of the biggest SFF review websites, under the theory that they’re so widely read they’ll reflect broad voting tastes. These were Tor.com, the Barnes and Noble SF Blog, and io9.com.

For the other 7 sources on my list, I included semiprozines, fanzines, and podcasts that have recently been nominated for the Hugo award. The theory here is that if these websites/magazines were well enough liked to get Hugo noms, they likely reflect the tastes of the Hugo audience. Ergo, collating them will be predictive. This year, I used the magazines Locus Magazine and Strange Horizons, the fan websites Book Smugglers, Elitist Book Reviews, and Nerds of a Feather (to replace the closing Dribble of Ink; Nerds didn’t get a Hugo nom last year, but was close, and I need another website), and fancasts Coode Street Podcast and SF Signal Podcast.

Here’s the results (and a link to the spreadsheet):

1. Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Ann: on 8 lists
1. Uprooted, Novik, Naomi: on 8 lists
3. The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.: on 7 lists
3. Aurora, Robinson, Kim Stanley: on 7 lists
5. Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho, Zen: on 6 lists
5. Dark Orbit, Gilman, Carolyn Ives: on 6 lists
7. The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Wilson, Kai Ashante: on 5 lists
7. A Darker Shade of Magic, Schwab, V.E.: on 5 lists
7. The Just City/Philosopher Kings, Walton, Jo: on 5 lists
10. Karen Memory, Bear, Elizabeth: on 4 lists
10. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Dickinson, Seth: on 4 lists
10. Europe at Midnight, Hutchison, Dave: on 4 lists
10. Archivist Wasp, Kornher-Stace, Nicole: on 4 lists
10. The Grace of Kings, Liu, Ken: on 4 lists
10. Luna: New Moon, McDonald, Ian: on 4 lists
10. Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal: on 4 lists
10. Radiance, Valente, Catherynne: on 4 lists

This list was much more top-heavy than the mainstream list. Those top 4 novels of Ancillary Mercy, Uprooted, The Fifth Season, and Aurora were pretty much the consensus of critics in 2015; almost everyone mentioned them in glowing terms. In an ordinary Hugo year—uninflected by Sad or Rabbid Puppies—I think Leckie, Jemisin, Novik, and Robinson would be good bets to make the final Hugo ballot. I’d round that out with Seveneves from slightly lower down on the list, and that’s based on Neal Stephenson’s strong Hugo history, including nominations for similarly long books like Cryptonomicon and Anathem, as well as a win for The Diamond Age. Familiarity with the voting audience always helps, as well as how popular Seveneves is.

The books in the 5-15 range make for an interesting and varied bunch. You see a lot of more unusual fantasy in that part of the list, from Zen Cho to Kai Ashante Wilson to Elizabeth Bear to Seth Dickinson to Ken Liu. All those texts will likely split the vote with each other, preventing one from emerging from that crush. Dave Hutchinson is absolutely adored by European critical voices; if the Hugos were taking place overseas, like they will next year, he’d be a good bet. This Europe series hasn’t made much of an impact in the United States, so that dooms his chances for the Hugo this year. Dark Orbit did very well, but with more obvious SF choices like Leckie, Robinson, and Stephenson, I think she’ll get lost in the Hugo shuffle. This might be a strong contender for some of the smaller SFF awards like the Clarke or Campbell Memorial.

Some of our Nebula nominees didn’t fair particularly well with SFF critics. None of our SFF critics recommended Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, possibly due to how late it came out in the year (end of December). Charles Gannon also had no recommendations from these 10 critical lists. Fran Wilde’s Updraft only had 2. Tough to see any of these making the final Hugo ballot, particularly in a competitive year.

Normally, I’d combine this list with past Hugo history and overall popularity to make my predictions. This year, I’ll need to balance those 3 factors with the Rabid Puppy and Sad Puppy recommendations to come up with something credible. Not taking the Puppies into account, I’d have Leckie / Jemisin / Novik / Robinson / Stephenson as my Top 5, with Bacigalupi / Walton / Liu / Cho / Dickinson / Bear / McDonald / Wilson following. Brandon Sanderson is also popular enough to be in the 8-12 range, and The Expanse TV show might help James S.A. Corey push back up into that territory. You’d figure Cixin Liu would get some votes for The Dark Forest, being last year’s winner and all.

Some final notes on the lists: to collate them, I try to include everything that was identified as “Best of the Year” in each post. Some of these lists are very long (20-40 items), so I sometimes thinking not making the list means more than making it. “Honorable Mentions” don’t count, and I make no effort to ensure eligibility/genre. I also don’t track “Best First Novel” lists. Many of these lists are themselves collections, gathering the opinions of 5, 10, or more critics. Sometimes a book will be mentioned 3 or 4 times in a single post. I limit points to one per post. Once again, the spreadsheet is here.

Final Best of 2015 Mainstream Meta-List

It’s Spring Break for me, so I’ve got a chance to wrap up some of my “lists of lists.” The first we’ll look at is my Best of 2015 Mainstream Meta-List. This list collates 20+ “Best of 2015” lists by mainstream outlets such as the NY Times, Amazon, Goodreads, Entertainment Weekly, and so on.

The collation works in a simple fashion: appear on a list, get 1 point. I then add up the points from all 20 lists. Results are below. I tried to use the same sources as last year so we can meaningful year-to-year comparisons. Here’s what I said last year about why I stopped at 20 lists:

I’m stopping at 20 for a couple reasons. First, this is a sample, not a comprehensive study. Second, I don’t think I’m adding much new information: each new “Best of List” is repeating the same books over and over again, so I think we’ve triangulated into what the mainstream believes are the best SFF books of the year. Lastly, I’ve got other things to look at—I don’t want to spend too much time getting caught up with what the mainstream thinks.

These mainstream websites tend to be very mainstream (duh) in their tastes. They don’t dip very deeply into SFF waters, often choosing the biggest names and buzziest books. So this list gives us a very incomplete picture of who might win the Nebula or Hugo. Last year, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks won and didn’t even manage a Hugo or Nebula nomination. Our eventual Nebula winner was #3 (Annihilation), and the Hugo winner (The Three-Body Problem) didn’t make the Top 20. What this list does, though, is give us a picture of what Science Fiction & Fantasy works broke through into mainstream culture.

So here’s the top of the list, with all works that received at least 3 votes. The whole list is available at this link.

1. The Water Knife, Bacagulupi, Paolo: on 7 lists
1. The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.: on 7 lists
1. Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal: on 7 lists
4. Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Ann: on 6 lists
4. Aurora, Robinson, Kim Stanley: on 6 lists
6. Golden Son, Brown, Pierce: on 5 lists
6. The Buried Giant, Ishiguro, Kazuo: on 5 lists
8. Three Moments of an Explosion, Mieville, China: on 4 lists
8. Slade House, Mitchell, David: on 4 lists
8. Uprooted, Novik, Naomi: on 4 lists
10. The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Butcher, Jim: on 3 lists
10. Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho, Zen: on 3 lists
10. The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Dickinson, Seth: on 3 lists
10. Get in Trouble, Link, Kelly: on 3 lists
10. The Dark Forest, Liu, Cixin: on 3 lists
10. The Shepherd’s Crown, Pratchett, Terry: on 3 lists

What do we learn? From the point of view of mainstream outlets, there was no breakthrough SFF novel in 2015. Compare that to 2014, where two novels appeared on more than 10 lists:

1. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: on 13 lists
2. The Martian, Andy Weir: on 10 lists

What we have this year is a lot of works essentially tied. It’s no surprise to see Bacagalupi, Stephenson, Leckie, and Robinson at the top of the list. Those are some of the obvious choices for mainstream critics who don’t know that much about SF. Jemisin had a very good year with The Fifth Season, getting more mainstream acclaim than ever before. That might bode well for her Hugo chances. Remember, she’s already grabbed a Nebula nom.

Ishiguro and Mitchell are your standard literary interlopers. Golden Son did very well and Pierce Brown could be an author to keep an eye on. Red Rising didn’t make the Top 15 in Hugo nomination voting last year, though. Uprooted is lower down than I thought it would be; I figured “Fairy Tale” would be an easy sell to the mainstream. Live and learn. That might be an important piece of info as we weigh the relative chances of Uprooted versus The Fifth Season.

For me, my main take-away is that there is no “consensus” book in 2015. There isn’t one novel that blew everyone away and that is going to steamroll to the Hugo and Nebula like American Gods. Instead, we’ll have a very close and competitive year.

How predictive will this list be for the Hugos and Nebulas? Well, 3 of the Top 8 were Nebula nominees. Not terrible. In a normal Hugo year, I could easily imagine a ballot of Bacigalupi / Stephenson / Leckie / Jemisin / Novik. This year with all the slate activity, we’ll likely get something very different. If the ballot winds up as Butcher / Stephenson / Leckie / Jemisin / Wright (as a guess), that will still be 3 out of the 5. Pretty pretty good.

Some final notes on sources: I try to include a wide variety of venues. Some list are flat-out “Best of the Year” with no genre specifications. Some are “Best SF and F” of the year. Some are short, 5 or so items. Some are long, giving 20-30 books. Some are “Holiday Guides” that are de facto Best of 2015 lists. Here are the sources with links: Amazon, Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, Goodreads Choice Science Fiction, Goodreads Choice Fantasy, Entertainment Weekly, NY Times, NPR, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Chicago Tribune, Kirkus, Library Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Slate, LA Times, A.V. Club, Wall Street Journal, SF Chronicle, and Audible.

BSFA Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel has been announced:

Dave Hutchinson: Europe at Midnight, Solaris
Chris Beckett: Mother of Eden, Corvus
Aliette de Bodard: The House of Shattered Wings, Gollancz
Ian McDonald: Luna: New Moon, Gollancz
Justina Robson: Glorious Angels, Gollancz

As you’d expect, the BSFA has a much more British/European flavor than the Hugos or Nebulas. It’s an interesting list. Hutchinson has emerged as a major author of the near-European future with this “Fractured Europe” series. Ian McDonald is a favorite of the BSFAs, with 3 prior Best Novel wins and 13 total nominations/5 wins. Bodard’s post-apocalyptic Paris fallen angel novel seems the oddest fit on the list, as its more urban fantasy than SF. She did grab another nomination in the short fiction category:

Aliette de Bodard: “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”. Clarkesworld 100
Paul Cornell: “The Witches of Lychford”, Tor.com
Jeff Noon: “No Rez”, Interzone 260
Nnedi Okorafor, “Binti”, Tor.com
Gareth L. Powell: “Ride the Blue Horse”, Matter

The big surprise here is that Ann Leckie is missing for Ancillary Mercy. Leckie is coming off back to back wins in the BSFA for Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. Some of the smaller awards work this way: the voting body decides one author has gotten enough recognition so they move on to something else. I wouldn’t read too much into the Leckie snub.

For those interested, here’s the BSFA’s description of their voting process:

What are the BSFA Awards? The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and – in recent years – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.

Lastly, I can now start my 2016 Award Meta-List, since we have these nominations and the PKD nominations. No overlap yet, so everyone sits tied at 1 nomination. The Kitschies might be up next, then the Nebulas. I’d be surprised to see any of the BSFA nominees show in the Nebulas or Hugos, but stranger things have happened.

2015 Locus Recommended Reading Lists Posted

The 2015 Locus Recommended Reading Lists have been posted over on the Locus website.

Locus is one of the most influential SF and Fantasy review magazines/websites. This list, put together by their reviewers, is extremely long (28 SF novels, 21 F novels, plus long lists of YA novels, anthologies, first novels, etc.). It operates as more of a 10,000 foot view of the field than a sharp predictor of who will win the year’s SFF awards. They also have recommendations in many of the other Hugo and Nebula categories such as Novella and Short Story.

From Chaos Horizon’s point of view, it’s probably more noteworthy as to what misses the lists than what makes it. All the expected heavy hitters are here: Uprooted, The Fifth Season, Seveneves, Aurora, The Water Knife, Ancillary Mercy, The Dark Forest.

A couple snubs I noticed: No recommendation for Updraft by Fran Wilde, and no recommendation for Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen. Both are doing very well on the SFWA Recommended Reading list. Schoen came out very late in the year (December 29th), but I don’t know why the Wilde missed both the Fantasy and the YA list. Locus tends to isolate first novels in its “First Novel” category rather than including them in the main category, so that’s why Ken Liu, Zen Cho, and Seth Dickinson show up this there rather than on the main Fantasy list.

If you don’t feel like clicking over, here’s the SF and F lists:

NOVELS – SCIENCE FICTION

The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (Borzoi; Orbit UK)
Clade, James Bradley (Penguin Australia)
The Darkside War, Zachary Brown (Saga)
Corsair, James L. Cambias (Tor)
Tracker, C.J. Cherryh (DAW)
Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman (Tor)
Weighing Shadows, Lisa Goldstein (Night Shade)
Europe at Midnight, Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
Galapagos Regained, James Morrow (St. Martin’s)
Going Dark, Linda Nagata (Saga)
Planetfall, Emma Newman (Roc)
The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW; Hodder & Stoughton)
Where, Kit Reed (Tor)
Poseidon’s Wake, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz; Ace 2016)
The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Glorious Angels, Justina Robson (Gollancz)
Regeneration, Stephanie Saulter (Quercus; Jo Fletcher 2016)
The End of All Things, John Scalzi (Tor)
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson (Morrow)
Chasing the Phoenix, Michael Swanwick (Tor)
Radiance, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
Persona, Genevieve Valentine (Saga)
A Borrowed Man, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

NOVELS – FANTASY
Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz 2014; DAW)
A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown; Doubleday UK)
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
Nightwise, R.S. Belcher (Tor)
Beneath London, James P. Blaylock (Titan)
The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard (Roc; Gollancz)
Prodigies, Angelica Gorodischer (Small Beer)
Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand (PS; Open Road)
Empire Ascendant, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US; Angry Robot UK)
The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Killing Pretty, Richard Kadrey (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
Finders Keepers, Stephen King (Scribner)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Slade House, David Mitchell (Random House; Sceptre UK)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Savages, K.J. Parker (Subterranean)
The Annihilation Score, Charles Stross (Ace)
Pacific Fire, Greg Van Eekhout (Tor)
The Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton (Tor)

Best of 2015: Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice

A few weeks ago, the 2015 Tor.com 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 Tor.com 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 Tor.com 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 Tor.com 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 (Tor.com and the Barnes and Noble SF Blog), so it’s not very useful (yet!).

Best of 2015: Debuting the Mainstream Meta-List

Now that my semester is over and my final grades are turned in, I can focus my attention on predicting the 2016 Hugo and Nebula awards. As a step towards that, I’ve been putting together collated lists of the “Best of 2015” posts from a variety of sources. Last year, I broke these down into two categories: a mainstream list (NY Times, Amazon, Goodreads, etc.) and a SFF Critics list (Locus, SF Signal, Book Smugglers, etc.). When combined with the 2015 Awards Meta-List, these three lists provide a very interesting take on what the best SFF novel of the year was. Each is idiosyncratic in its own way and are best used in concert rather than alone.

I’m going to debut the 2015 Mainstream list today. Last year, I collated 20 lists from a variety of popular sources. Appear on the list, get 1 point. Most points wins. Here’s last year’s top 5:

1. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: on 13 lists
2. The Martian, Andy Weir: on 10 lists
3. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: on 9 lists
3. The Peripheral, William Gibson: on 9 lists
3. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman: on 9 list

Annihilation won the Nebula, and The Bone Clocks won the World Fantasy Award. So not too shabby for the mainstream! The lists I collect are very different: some are popular votes (Goodreads); some are marketing tools (Amazon). Some are short, some are ridiculously long (NPR). Some include graphic novels, collections, and books that aren’t eligible. I don’t make distinctions; I just list everything and figure that the sheer number of lists will balance everything out. I don’t include lists that are specifically Young Adult / Children’s / Graphic Novels, as my goal is to try to predict the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel categories. Historically, Young Adult works have not been nominated for those awards, although there are a few exceptions.

This year, in an effort to be more transparent, I’m going to use a Google Docs document that anyone can access at anytime. Only I can edit it though (of course, you can just cut and paste the data and then do what you want with it). So, if you don’t want to read on, you can just go look at the list right now. This way, I can update the list immediately and you can check where things stand at this moment.

We’re still early in the year. So far, I’ve collected Amazon’s Best of 2015, The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, the Goodreads Choice Awards (Fantasy and SF categories), The Guardian, Buzzfeed, NPR’s Book Concierge, the NY Times Notable books, and Publisher’s Weekly. Links to all those sources are in the spreadsheet.

Here are the too-early results:

5 points: The Fifth Season, Jemisin, N.K.
5 points: Seveneves, Stephenson, Neal
5 points: Ancillary Mercy, Leckie, Ann
4 points: The Water Knife, Bacagulupi, Paolo
4 points: Golden Son, Brown, Pierce
4 points: Aurora, Robinson, Kim Stanley
3 points: Uprooted, Novik, Naomi
3 points: The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Dickinson, Seth

Not particularly surprising. We knew that past Hugo winners Leckie, Stephenson, Bacigalupi, and Robinson all published well-liked novels this year. Uprooted would be 1 point higher if Goodreads hadn’t strangely put her novel on their YA list. Jemisin running neck and neck with Leckie and Stephenson is impressive, and I expect at least a Nebula nomination to be very likely for The Fifth Season.

The real surprise here is Golden Son. The first volume in that series, Red Rising, was marketed more as a YA novel in the vein of The Hunger Games. Golden Son is being hailed as an improvement in every way, and now seems to be in the adult rather than YA category. It will be interesting to see if this book can develop into a viable Hugo contender.

Unlike last year, where The Bone Clocks, Station Eleven, and Annihilation where highly esteemed by the literary mainstream, we don’t necessarily have a breakout “literary” SFF book. All the authors I listed above are more associated with speculative than literary fiction. The Entertainment Weekly Top 10 list had 0 speculative works after 3 last year (unless you count the Zebulon Finch by Daniel Krauss; anyone read this?); the NY Times Top 50 novels only had 2, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Michel Houellecbecq’s The Submission.

As I said above, we’re still early in the year for best-of lists, but patterns are beginning to emerge. Will the mainstream list be mirrored when the Nebulas and the Hugos roll around? Contrast this list with the SFWA Nebula recommended list, and we already see some interesting points of overlap. If you know of a good list I should add to the data, let me know in the comments.

SFWA 2015 Nebula Recommended Reading List: Analyis and Prediction

In a somewhat surprising move, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) decided to make their annual “Nebula Recommended Reading List” available to the public. I say this is surprising because the Nebulas have historically been a closed shop. They don’t share voting numbers with the public, only the list of nominees and winners. Here’s the Press Release, and a link to the list pages themselves.

This list is gathers the various SFWA members’ (i.e. Nebula voters) recommendations as to the best of the year. They also included the number of recommendations for each work. They even threw in the data from 2014! All of this is stunning because it gives us an enormous amount of information to predict the Nebulas. In fact, this is the best data I’ve ever had at Chaos Horizon!

To use this information to predict the upcoming Nebulas, I’ll need to look to see whether the 2014 recommendations were correlated to the eventual Nebula nominees and winners. Sneak preview: they are, to the tune of 84% accuracy! Winning was a little dicier, with only 50% accuracy from the Suggested Reading, although the two other winners placed #2 on their respective Suggested Reading list. Why the SFWA would want to give so much information away is beyond me.

Once we know the correlation, I can make a common Chaos Horizon assumption (i.e. in the absence of better data, what happened last year is likely to happen again next year), and use that 2014 correlation to predict what will happen in 2015. I’m not claiming that this list is causal; I’ll discuss some possibilities below. What I will claim is that if the 2014 list predicted the Nebulas with 84% accuracy, you better take that into account for 2015!

So, let’s dig in. I’m interested in the Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story categories. The SFWA also gives a movie/TV award named the Bradbury and a Young Adult award named the Norton; those seem to work a little differently, so analyze them on your own.

What I’m going to do is see what correlation exists between the Top 6 works from the “Suggested Reading List” and the Nebula nominees. Simple language: do the works show up on both lists?

Table 1: Correlation Between Top 6 (and Ties) of the 2014 Nebula Suggested Reading List and the Eventual 2014 Nebula Nominees

Novel: 4 out of 6, 67.7%
Novella: 6 out of 6, 100%
Novelette: 5 out of 6, 83.3%
Short Story: 6 out of 7, 85.7%

Total: 21/25, 84%

If Chaos Horizon ever manages to be 84% accurate, I’m packing it in. Those are staggering correlation numbers. With only a few exceptions here and there, the top 6 works from the 2014 Suggested Reading List were the eventual Nebula nominees. Will the same happen in 2015? I wouldn’t bet against it.

In novel, our outlier with only 2/3 accuracy, the Top 3 books from the Top 10 list got nominated, and the lowest nominees were two books tied for #7. Here’s the 2015 Suggested Reading List, Novel category; the number at the start of the column is the number of recommendations.

32 Annihilation VanderMeer, Jeff FSG 2 / 2014 (nominee, winner)
23 Trial By Fire Gannon, Charles Baen 8 / 2014 (nominee)
22 The Goblin Emperor Addison, Katherine Tor 4 / 2014 (nominee)
19 Afterparty Gregory, Daryl Tor 4 / 2014
17 My Real Children Walton, Jo Tor 5 / 2014
16 Ancillary Sword Leckie, Ann Orbit 10 / 2014 (nominee)
15 Coming Home McDevitt, Jack Ace 11 / 2014 (nominee)
15 The Three-Body Problem Liu, Cixin Tor Books 11 / 2014 (nominee)
9 Lagoon Okorafor, Nnedi Hodder & Stou… 4 / 2014
8 American Craftsmen Doyle, Tom Tor 5 / 2014

Gregory got a Novella nomination for We Are All Completely Fine; perhaps people didn’t want to nominate him twice. I can’t account for why Walton didn’t make it, but the difference 15 and 17 votes is pretty small. The McDevitt and Liu also came out in November and maybe didn’t have enough time to pick up votes on this list.

Let’s not get too overwhelmed. Perhaps 2014 was an odd year, and there are normally greater differences? We’re also talking about some pretty fine numerical differences in categories like Short Story, where the difference between being in the Top 6 and outside that is 1 vote.

Nonetheless, based on 1 year of data, using the Suggested Reading List to predict the Nebulas seems very viable. It even seems to work to predict the winner: Annihilation easily won the Suggested Reading list and went on to the win the Nebula.

There are a couple explanations I can think of as to why these lists are so correlated:

1. The Suggested Reading list is Causal: Under this theory, you’d claim that the Suggested Reading List exerts such a gravitational force on the Nebulas that it essentially forms the final nominations, i.e. it works like a slate. Once you get the ball rolling on these recommendations, more people read those works, which leads to more recommendations, which leads to more votes, etc. While the suggested list isn’t 100% accurate, 84% is pretty substantial . This analysis would seemingly open the door to manipulation: i.e. if someone could logroll a specific author up into the Top 3 or 4, would they receive a nomination? I don’t know.

2. The Suggested Reading List Operates as an Accurate Poll: Perhaps we shouldn’t think of the list as causal, but more from a polling perspective. There were 372 total votes on the 2014 Novel list. Let’s say your average recommender recommended 3 books; that’s mostly a number I pulled out of the air, but does sync up with how many books the average Hugo voter nominates. I’m sure some people recommended 1, some people recommended 5 or 6. The average has got to be somewhere in the middle. Using an average of 3, that would mean around 124 people participated in building the Suggested Reading List. Is that substantial snapshot of who actually nominates? The SFWA says they have 1800 members, but how many vote in the Nebula nomination stage? Half? A quarter?

Let’s say it’s half (which I think is way too high), and that you accept my 124 number. That means the Suggested Reading list is effectively polling (124/900) = 13.7% of the eventual nominators. That’s a solid N. Now, since this isn’t a random poll and I had to estimate voting pools size, etc., we can’t calculate things like margin of error with any accuracy. This is also a self-selected poll (i.e. people choose to participate), and, as such, the most passionate voters will be participating.

But it may seem—based on one year’s data—that these suggesters have their finger on the pulse of the Nebula voters. Perhaps the 15% (or 25%, or 35%, whatever the actual number is) just accurately reflects how these voters think.

3. The Number of Nominators is Small: This is another interpretation you could put on these numbers. We’ve never known how many votes it takes to get a Nebula nomination, but maybe the numbers of voters from the Suggested List is all that it takes (or close to it). If you go back to 2012 with the Hugos (well before recent controversies/slates set in), it only took between 72-36 votes to grab a Short Story Hugo nomination. If the Nebulas have half as many voters as the Hugo (again, we don’t know), the 17-11 votes indicated by the Suggested Reading list may have been in the ballpark of what it takes to grab a nom.

We don’t need to know fully understand how the list impacts the Nebulas. In fact, Chaos Horizon is more interested in predicting what will happen than explaining why things happen. The Suggested List is published, and that data goes into the black box of the Nebula nominators minds. Something happens in there, then the list of nominees pops out. If the data in consistently matches the data out to the tune of 84%, who cares what happens in the black box?

What It All Means: We don’t need to know fully understand how the list impacts the Nebulas. In fact, Chaos Horizon is more interested in predicting what will happen than explaining why things happen. The Suggested List is published, and that data goes into the black box of the Nebula nominators minds. Something happens in there, then the list of nominees pops out. If the data in consistently matches the data out to the tune of 84%, who cares what happens in the black box?

For Chaos Horizon, it means that to predict the Nebulas, I should use the Suggested Reading List because it has an 84% success rate. Even if that drops to 75%, it’s still stellar.

So, we could take the 2015 suggestions and predict the eventual Nebula nominees right now. If we check out the total numbers of votes this year, we’re already at 337—not quite the 372 of last year, so I’d still expect some changing, particularly for works that came out late in the year (the Gannon and McDevitt would be prime examples of works I’d expect to rise). Making the list public, which will bring more scrutiny, might also change the way people vote.

Here’s the current Top 10 for the Novel:

20 Uprooted Novik, Naomi Del Rey 5 / 2015
17 The Grace of Kings Liu, Ken Saga Press 4 / 2015
16 Karen Memory Bear, Elizabeth Tor Books 2 / 2015
13 The Traitor Baru Cormorant Dickinson, Seth Tor Books 9 / 2015
11 Ancillary Mercy Leckie, Ann Orbit 10 / 2015
10 Updraft Wilde, Fran Tor Books 9 / 2015
9 Beasts of Tabat Rambo, Cat WordFire Press 4 / 2015
9 Last First Snow Gladstone, Max Tor Books 7 / 2015
9 The Fifth Season Jemisin, N. K. Orbit 8 / 2015
8 Sorcerer to the Crown Cho, Zen Ace

Updraft has more votes over in the Norton as YA novel (11), so that might eventually show up in that category, not this one. Cat Rambo is the current President of the SFWA, so there might be some conflict of interest issues in accepting a Nebula nomination. Given Jemisin’s prior Nebula nominations in this category, I’d give her the edge over Gladstone in making it into the Top 6. So that would make my current prediction:

Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

I suspect either Gannon or McDevitt has a strong chance to creep up into the Top 6 once the fans of those authors begin suggesting their works. I’d kick Dickinson out first, because I think Leckie and Jemisin will rise based on past Nebula performance.  Gannon had 22 votes last years and only has 2 votes this year. Don’t count out Bacigalupi who is tied for 10th with 8 votes, or Robinson at 15 with 6 votes; both have strong recent Nebula history. Strangely, The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu doesn’t show up on the list at all.

Last year, Annihilation was the clear winner of the Suggested Reading list and then won the Nebula. I’m not willing to crown Uprooted yet because Novik is only 3 votes ahead of Liu, but I think she’s still the clear favorite to win at this point.

The SFWA has been updating the list constantly. I’ll keep my eye on it, and see what we can learn. There’s lots of other analysis that could be run with this data (gender breakdowns, genre breakdowns, ethnic/race breakdowns, etc.) that would tell us a great deal about the Nebulas.

If the list above is the eventual Nebula nominees, or even 5/6 of them, the SFWA is going to have seriously consider whether or not they want to release so much info so early.

So, what do you think? Does this list give away too much information? Should the SFWA take it down? Or should we just be happy we have such good data?

Best of 2015: Publishers Weekly

It’s that time of year: Best of 2015 lists are going to come pouring in. Here at Chaos Horizon, I keep track of these and total up how often books show up on these lists. I did two meta-lists last year: one a mainstream list and one SFF critics list. I’m going to do that again for 2015; I’ll debut the full lists once I have 5 in each category.

The Goodreads Choice Awards, Amazon, and now Publishers Weekly have already posted their “Best of 2015” lists. It may seem too early, but most major SFF novels come out before November, so it’s actually not that unreasonable. Sure, a few late-in-the-year books will get missed, but these websites want clicks, and moving early helps cut through the crowd.

Publishers Weekly gives an annual top “Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror” list. Here it is:

Ghost Summer: Stories, Tananarive Due
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson

Two of those aren’t eligible for the Hugos/Nebulas: the Due is a story collection and The Red was originally published in 2013 and got a Nebula nomination in 2014. It was originally published by Mythic Island press (i.e. indie published), but has since been picked up and reissued by Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Good military-SF, but I’m not sure it belongs on a 2015 list. The Sorcerer of Wildeeps is refered to as a novella by Publishers Weekly. I can’t speak to that, as I don’t know the exact word count (40,000 is the cut off). I imagine this book might be competitive in the Novella category but not at all competitive in the Novel category.

I do think Uprooted is a good bet for both the Hugo and Nebula in 2016, and that The Fifth Season is a strong Nebula contender as well. Picking 2 awards contenders is actually better than this list has done in the past. Publishers Weekly has historically been an eccentric list, not lining up well with the Hugos or Nebulas at all. They managed not to pick a single Hugo/Nebula nominee in 2014 or 2013, which is quite a challenge! Of course, that’s not the point of their list, but it’s what I’m looking for here at Chaos Horizon.

It doesn’t look like any speculative novels made the “Fiction” category. A couple SFF novels show up in “Young Adult,” including Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper and Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown.

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