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The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Genre, Part 7

We’re knee deep in these awards now. Yesterday, I looked at whether or not it makes sense to break the Nebula (2001-2014) down into sub-genres (secondary/fantasy, contemporary/historical, epic series/stand-alone). Today, we’ll apply that same methodology to the Hugo, so you might want to take a look at Part 6 to refresh your memory on the methodology.

By my count, there were 20 fantasy novels nominated for the Hugo between 2001-2014. Here’s the primary/secondary breakdown for the nominees:

Chart 9 Hugo Primary Nominees

A reasonable split, and this reflects what I’d expect. Secondary world fantasies, particularly epic series, are a little more populist/mass-market, and the Hugo is usually more receptive to those kinds of books. The secondary world novels are clustered around well-known authors: 3 Martin novels, 4 Mieville novels, 2 Bujold, and then books by Jemisin, Ahmed, and Jordan/Sanderson. The primary world novels show a better range of authors: Gaiman has 2, but 6 other authors have one each, headlined by Rowling and Walton. Now, with that 60/40 break, you’d expect secondary world novels to do well in the winner’s circle. The stats show the opposite is true:

Chart 10 Primary Hugo Winners

There have been seven fantasy winners from 2001-2014, and primary world novels have dominated: Rowling, Gaiman (twice), Clarke, and Walton. Only Mieville and Bujold have grabbed wins for secondary world novels. That’s quite a flip in from Chart 9 to Chart 10. While the data set is small, we should acknowledge that the Hugo voters are willing to put secondary world fantasy on the slate, but haven’t voted it into the winner’s circle very often. The City and the City is definitely a genre-boundary pushing book, and Bujold probably grabbed her win on the strength of her prior Hugo reputation (she’d already won twice before Paladin of Souls). Despite the enormous popularity of secondary world fantasy, it’s not a sub-genre that wins the Hugo (or the Nebula, for that matter). Is that destined to change?

This, for me, is the “tipping point” of the modern Hugo. When will a book like A Game of Thrones win? Is Martin destined for a win once Winds of Winter comes out? Or will another author break this epic fantasy “glass ceiling”? In terms of raw popularity, a book like Words of Radiance trounces most fantasy and SF competitors, but the bias against a book like that is likely to prevent Sanderson from winning (or even being nominated). As fantasy becomes more popular, though, will this bias hold up?

Let’s break this down into sub-genres:

Chart 11 Hugo Nominee Subgenre

A fairly even division, although “stand alone secondary world fantasy” is propped up by Mieville’s 4 nominations in that sub-genre. The winners list tells a different story: the “epic series” wedge drops out entirely.

Chart 12 Hugo Winner Subgenre

It’s these kind of statistical oddities I find fascinating. If you asked most people to define fantasy, the “epic series” idea would pop up very quickly. Probably Tolkein first, then Martin, and then on through the entire range of contemporary fantasy: Robin Hobb, Patrick Rothfuss, N.K. Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Bear, Saladin Ahmed, Mark Lawrence, Brent Weeks, and on and on and on. So many well-known (and well-selling) writers are working in this field, and yet the Hugo has never been awarded to this kind of text. The closest you get is Paladin of Souls. Admittedly, the Bujold is pretty close, but her epic Chalion trilogy is clearly three stand-alone texts linked by a shared world.

There’s a tension here that will likely be resolved in the next 10 or so years. Can the Hugo continue to ignore the fantasy series? Is it offering a true survey/accounting of the SFF field without it?

I’m going to take a few days break from the genre study, and then wrap this up by looking at the idea of literary fiction in the Hugos and Nebulas.

The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Genre, Part 5

Part 5 already! I’m being more efficient than usual this week—that’s what vacation will do to you. We’re on to the winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel today. By my count, 7 fantasy novels have won the Hugo:

2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman
2004: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
2005: Jonathan Strange & Me Norrell, Susanna Clarke
2009: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
2010: The City & The City, China Mieville (tied with Bacigalupi)
2012: Among Others, Jo Walton

That’s quite a run for fantasy: 0 wins for 40+ years, then 7 wins in 12 years. When the dam breaks, it breaks. A couple things jump out: only 1 of those 7 wins is for a “secondary” world novel (the Bujold); the rest take place in some version of our own world. Given the lasting popularity of the Tolkein-style novel (takes place in a made-up pseudo-Medeival fantasy realm and involves defeating a dark evil), you might have expected that sub-genre of fantasy to lead the charge. It most definitely did not: Martin still doesn’t have a win, much less any of the Martin-influenced grimdark follow-ups.

Instead, we get a cluster of fantasy novels that take place in the present and involve the incursion of magic/the unreal into our ordinary world. While the gender ration is pretty close to 50/50 (4 women/3 men), we can’t overlook the preponderance of British wins (5 British authors/1 American/1 Canadian), although Gaiman does throw “American” into his title. I haven’t yet done a study of nationality and the awards (I will), but I presume that that ratio is fairly unusual. Over the last 15 years, it’s largely been British fantasy winners, American science fiction winners. Odd.

Let’s look at this visually:

Table 4: Percentage of Science Fiction and Fantasy Wins for the Hugo Award for Best Novel by Decade
Hugo Win %
Hugo Win % Graph

That’s as strange a chart as Chaos Horizon has ever published: 5 decades of 0%, and then a sudden jump to 50%. That kind of rapid change is statistically unusual. Even if a new group of fans came into the Hugo WorldCon around 2000 (presumably on the wings of Harry Potter mania), change this abrupt and this rapid is difficult to process. I figure that once Goblet of Fire won, everyone figured “there are no rules!!!!” or, more soberly, “if Rowling is going to win, why not other fantasy novels?” and this was enough to fundamentally shift the award.

I think this change, more than anything else, has been the defining transformation of the Hugo in the past 15 years. This is also why I usually tag 2001 as the beginning of the “contemporary Hugo.” Statistical studies like this can’t tell us whether a change is good or bad, but they certainly emphasize how dramatic change can be. I don’t think the Hugo voters have fully processed this move towards fantasy, and it’ll be interesting to see how fantasy friendly the award is for the rest of this decade.

This concludes Part #1 of the genre study. There is still a lot to be learned regarding the issue of genre, and I’ll be looking (probably in a week or two) at what kind of fantasy novels have been getting nominated, as well as trying to fix a number onto scope of “literary fiction” (whatever that means) nominations.

Were you surprised by the genre study? Was it what you expected? Are the shifts—slower in the case of the Nebula, very dramatic in the case of the Hugo—on par with the increased popularity of fantasy? Where will these awards settle down? In a decade’s time, will the Hugo and Nebula be 75% fantasy, 25% SF? Is that good or bad?

The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Genre, Part 4

Time waits for no one, so on to the Hugo nominees. The Hugos began in 1953, and, unlike the Nebula, was largely a SF award until the 2000s. Fantasy nominees were rare, and fantasy wins were unheard of until J.K. Rowling’s breakthrough in 2001 for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the first 5 decades of the Hugo, there were 211 nominees, and less than 10% of those (17) were fantasy. Here’s the data:

Table 3: Percentage of Science Fiction and Fantasy Nominees for the Hugo Award for Best Novel by Decade
Hugo Nominee %

Hugo Nominee % Graph

This is a very different chart than the Nebula chart: fantasy has made nowhere near the inroads into the Hugo as it has the Nebula. We are seeing a slow drift in the direction of fantasy, and, given a rough eyeball estimate, it looks like the lines might cross somewhere in the 2030s or 2040s.

We even have an interesting dip in the 1990s, as fantasy, driven by authors like Gene Wolfe and Orson Scott Card, did well in the 1980s before retreating back. This chart was not a surprise: I always thought that the Hugo was the more “traditionally” SF award. The WorldCon voters seems more tied to the idea of SF than the SFWA voters, an interesting divergence for the two most significant SFF awards. Nonetheless, this SF bias appears to be changing very rapidly, and who knows where we’ll be by the end of this decade.

Decade-by-Decade Analysis

1950s: The Hugo is just getting started, and they didn’t even publish lists of nominees until 1959. All nominees are clearly SF. Keep in mind that Return of the King would have been eligible for the 1956 Hugo, so ignoring Tolkein is a pretty strong anti-fantasy statement.

1960s: We’ve got a couple borderline fantasy novels creeping in. Andre Norton snags a 1964 nomination for Witch World. I’ve classified it as fantasy, although I’ve seen others claim this for science fiction. Two fantasy books in 1967 (neither of which I’ve read, or, quite frankly, even heard of) round out the initial incursions: Randall Garrett’s Too Many Magicians and Thomas Burnett Swann’s Day of the Minotaur. We also have a 1963 French novel called Sylva by Jean Bruller I classified as “Other” because I wasn’t able to find out much about it. So, all told, we see just a little flex, but nothing of real note.

1970s: In its third decade, the Hugo is fully anti-fantasy, with no discernible fantasy books making the slate for the entire decade. It might be tempting to re-categorize some of Anne McCaffrey’s work as fantasy, but the Locus Magazine voters saw books like Dragonquest and The White Dragon as SF, and there is a SF frame story going on, even if the books have a definite fantasy feel. Two “other” books crept in, both horror themed: The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg and Inferno by Niven and Pournelle. But there’s nothing here to indicate that the Hugo is moving in a fantasy direction.

1980s: This is where things get interesting. Fantasy starts to pop up, first with Patricia McKillip’s Harpist in the Wind in 1980, then Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle in 1981, then Gene Wolfe grabbing two fantasy nominations for parts of The Book of the New Sun (parts #2 and #3). This marks a fairly substantial change, and while none of these books win, it looks the Hugo is moving to a 1 fantasy novel per year pattern (20%). Orson Scott Card closes out the decade with a run of nominations for the Alvin the Maker series, grabbing nominations in 1988, 1989, and 1990. At that time, Card was wildly popular, but this continues some of the pattern we saw in the Nebula: the initial entry for fantasy was books by authors already well-known to the SF audience. Silverberg, Wolfe, and Card get some genre-flex due to their reputations.

We shouldn’t discount, though, the nominations by McKillip, or for John Crowley’s Little, Big in 1982, which shows at least some willingness to consider fantasy novels. What’s missing, of course, are the best-selling fantasy novels of the decade: no Raymond Feist, no David Eddings, no Marion Zimmer Bradley, etc.

1990s: Then the lights go out. Only 5 fantasy novels are nominated this entire decade, and, except for Card, these are all relatively minor works. After Prentice Alvin in 1990, we get Michael Bishop’s Brittle Innings in 1995, James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah in 1995, City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams in 1998, and Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick in 1998.

What happened? Statistics can’t tell us that, but there were plenty of popular fantasy books in the 1990s to nominate: all the Wheel of Time books, Robin Hobb gets her start in 1995 with Assassin’s Apprentice, and, of course, the biggie: Game of Thrones in 1996. For whatever reasons, mainstream fantasy wasn’t being considered in any fashion. It’s this decade, perhaps more than any other, which gives the Hugo its “SF” only feel. To ignore fantasy all through the 1990s is quite a statement.

2000s: Then the voters totally changed their minds. Beginning with Rowling’s 2000 nomination for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, fantasy of all stripes begins pouring in: Rowling again in 2001 (she wins), Neil Gaiman for American Gods in 2002 (he wins), Lois McMaster Bujold picks up two nominations for her 2002 Curse of Chalion and 2004 Paladin of Souls (she wins), China Mieville starts grabbing nominations for every fantasy book he writes, including Perdido Street Station (2002), The Scar (2003), and Iron Council (2005). Martin gets into the act with A Storm of Swords (2001) and A Feast for Crows (2006), although A Clash of Kings is oddly absent.

Throw in more nominations and wins for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2005) and Graveyard Book (2009), and you’ve got the single most transformative decade for either the Hugo or Nebula award. When the floodgates open, they open, and WorldCon voters all of a sudden feel comfortable voting for fantasy novels in ways they haven’t been before.

I don’t know how to account for this sudden change, or, quite frankly, what to make of it. You have a 40 year period where the Hugo is a SF award; overnight, it changes to a joint SF/fantasy award. Was this an internet effect, with more people talking about their love of fantasy in the 2000s? Was this a British invasion—Rowling, Gaiman, Mieville, Clarke—where British fantasy somehow felt more “serious” and “award-worthy” than American fantasy? An after-effect of the Lord of the Rings movies raising the fantasy profile? Whatever it was, it was sudden and profound, and we’re still sorting through what this means for the Hugo.

2010s: Fantasy continues to roll in the 2010s. Mieville finally gets his win in 2010 for The City and the City, and we see plenty of fantasy nominations for Catherynne Valente, N.K. Jemisin, Jo Walton (and a win), George R.R. Martin, Saladin Ahmed, Larry Correia, and Robert Jordan. WE’re now up to around 30% fantasy nominations.

Will the Hugo continue to be hospitable to fantasy? Will popular fantasy writers like Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks or Lev Grossman begin to make an impact in this category? Will urban fantasy begin to crash the party? Or will there be a reaction against fantasy, and a return to the SF-only Hugo of the 1950s-1990s? It’s pure guesswork here, but if anyone has any solid opinions/interpretations, I’d love to hear them.

Here’s the raw data, if you want to look over it: Hugo Genre Study.

The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Genre: A Chaos Horizon Report

It’s that time again: today we launch the most ambitious Chaos Horizon report yet, a look at genre and the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. Note the lack of dates: we’re doing the whole thing, from the beginning of both awards to the present!

When the Hugo Awards started in 1953 and the Nebula Awards in 1966, they were exclusively science fiction awards, and this SF bias is still part of the Hugo/Nebula DNA. Consider their names or the statues they give: I imagine it’s odd to win a rocket ship for a fantasy novel.

Over time, both awards have changed, moving beyond SF to other speculative genres: fantasy, literary speculative fiction, slipstream, urban fantasy, horror, etc. In this report, we’ll try to quantify and chart out that change. Like always, I’m going to break this into several parts:

Part 1: Introduction and Methodology (this post)
Part 2: Genre and the Nebula Award Best Novel nominees
Part 3: Genre and the Nebula Award Best Novel winners
Part 4: Genre and the Hugo Award Best Novel nominees
Part 5: Genre and the Hugo Award Best Novel winners
Part 6: A Closer Look: Fantasy Sub-Genres in the Nebulas
Part 7: A Closer Look: Fantasy Sub-Genres in the Hugos
Part 8: A Closer Look: Literary Fiction in the Nebulas and Hugos

Whew, that’s a lot of upcoming posts! And, of course, I’ll entertain any requests for clarification/further data that my readers might have; it’s very helpful to have different eyes on statistical project, as this can help me see my own blind spots and biases.

Basic Methodology: For this report, I assigned a genre for each of the almost 600 nominees for the Hugo or Nebula award for Best Novel. That breaks down to 311 Nebula nominees and 288 Hugo nominees, with some obvious overlap between the two awards. For the first pass—we’ll look deeper at some of the categories—I used one of three categories: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and the dreaded Other. So that brings us to our most basic methodological question: how do you define genre?

Defining Genre: For a term we use ubiquitously in our day to day lives, genre is a surprisingly slippery concept. The first temptation is to try to define a genre structurally. So, for instance:

Science Fiction: Takes place in the future, involves advanced technology and/or aliens.
Fantasy: Takes place in the past with no advanced technology, involves magic and/or dragons and other non-real races or creatures.

Okay, we’re good to go, aren’t we? Nice, basic definitions. Classify away! Once you do this, though, exceptions start popping up all over the place. What about Alternate History novels? Those are traditionally classified as Science Fiction, but they don’t fit my definition. I’d have to go back and expand that. Same thing happens with Fantasy: Harry Potter doesn’t take place in the past, but in the present moment. Okay, maybe magic is the defining feature of Fantasy. Then again . . . does every Conan story involve magic? There are also plenty of stories where Conan just gets revenge by hacking up people, no magic involved. What about Steampunk? Is that Fantasy or Science Fiction?

What you’ll find is that any structural definition of Science Fiction or Fantasy blurs at the edges. This is because these are living genres, changing over time and with the different ideas/aesthetics of writers and readers. What “Fantasy” means today is different than what “Fantasy” meant 50 years ago, and it will continue to change in the future.

This is further complicated by the marketplace. From a branding perspective, fantasy was not well-regarded in the 1960s, and many fantasy writers threw a thin gloss of science fiction onto their fantasy books to help this problem. Anne McCaffery, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance, Marion Zimmer Bradley, etc., all did this at times, and you wound up with something like the “sword and planet” sub-genre that can be difficult and deeply unsatisfying to classify.

Maybe we should switch to some notion of authorial intent, and focus on the emotion the book tries to evoke: if the book tries to evoke horror, it’s horror. If heroism, it’s fantasy. If a sense of wonder at a technological future, science fiction. Once again, you’ll very quickly run into problems with this, and you’ll end up being what we call the “Genre Police” trying to re-enforce borders that are constantly being overwritten, and you’ll end up saying things like, “This isn’t real fantasy!” I find that to be one of the more uninteresting observations a critic can make about a work of literature.

All is not lost. Just because blue blurs into green at the edges doesn’t mean that blue and green aren’t distinct colors, and this is also true for genres like fantasy and science fiction. While it might be hard to classify something like The Dying Earth, the difference between Ancillary Sword and A Game of Thrones is very obvious.

I’ve talked in circles, though, and haven’t resolved the basic problem: how do we define genre?

Advanced Methodology:

I ultimately went with a “reader-reception” theory of genre: if the majority of readers at the time of publication thought a book was fantasy or science fiction, that’s what I classified it as. There are several benefits to this approach:
1. It removes my bias from the equation; we don’t want my opinion as to whether or not Claw of the Conciliator is SF or F determining the data.
2. For the most part, this is easy to ascertain (see below).
3. It provides a historical look at genre, rather than reclassifying novels based on our present-day definitions of genre.

To measure reader-reception of genre, I primarily used the Locus Awards classifications. The Locus Awards, a source I often really heavily on, are an annual vote by the readers of Locus Magazine regarding the best SFF novels (and stories, for that matter) of the year. Beginning in 1978, they broke their vote into two categories: Best Fantasy Novel and Best Science Fiction Novel. This information is readily available at the Science Fiction Awards Database.

So, my main form of classification was to look up each Hugo/Nebula nominee on this list, and just go with the Locus voters. I figure these were the most informed SFF fans of their era, and if they believed Claw of the Conciliator was Fantasy, who am I to doubt them?

These leaves me with two problems: what to do before 1978, and what if a nominee didn’t make the Locus list? In those cases, I did the following:
1. If I was familiar with the novel (i.e., if I’d read it) and the classification was obvious (in my opinion, sadly), I assigned a classification. For the Hugos, this was easy, as 99% of the books are unquestionably SF. For the Nebula, it’s a little more difficult, but I only had to deal with 1966-1977.
2. If I was unfamiliar with the novel, I went to Amazon.com and read the book description and reader reviews. If I felt it was obvious (spaceship on the cover, description talking about magic), I went ahead and assigned a genre.
3. If I still felt the genre was still unclear, I marked it as “Other.” Better to have uncertainty in the data than pretend it’s 100% accurate. I’ll note any “borderline” cases in upcoming posts.

Is this classification of genre perfect? Absolutely not, but I don’t think any classification of genre would be. Out of the 600 classifications I had to make, I’d say about 5% of them were difficult. That’s actually not too bad for a data set. While a different researcher might classify books differently, these slight variations won’t throw the results off that badly.

So, I’ll be back tomorrow with the Nebula Award and Nominees! But today’s question is the one of genre: what do you think of genre, and what do you think the best way to classify it is?

Young Adult Fiction and the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Part 4

For one brief moment in 2009, YA fiction looked poised to break into the Hugo and Nebula mainstream. Gaiman and Le Guin won the Hugo and Nebula respectively, and Scalzi and Doctorow rounded out the slate with more YA novels. And then . . .

Silence. The data we’ve looked at over the past several days shows that YA novels aren’t really making any inroads into the Hugo or Nebula awards. For the most part, these books are completely ignored when award season comes around. Of all the books nominated for the Hugo and Nebula from 2001-2014, only 6% of Hugo nominees were YA, and only 2% of Nebula nominees were YA.

Sometimes these studies reveal patterns we might not have been aware of. Given that a number of YA novels have won the Hugo and Nebula—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Graveyard Book, and Powers—you’d expect plenty of YA books to be on the slate. The opposite appears to be true: those three winners were exceptions, and don’t indicate competitiveness on the part of other YA novels.

Of course, data-mining does not provide either context or meaning for statistical trends. What we can conclude, at this point, is that YA novels are not in the mix for either the Hugo or the Nebula award. When YA novels pop up, they usually do so because the authors of those novels are already well-known. Barring a repeat of the overwhelming popularity of the Harry Potter books, it seems nearly impossible for an author known only as a YA author to get nominated for a Hugo or Nebula.

How problematic is this? Should YA novels be on the Hugo and Nebula slates? Can the Hugo or Nebula cover both adult fiction and young adult fiction? Has the introduction of the Andre Norton award taken care of this problem? Should the Hugo Award consider adding a “Best YA novel” to their (bursting) list of awards? Currently, we have categories like “Best Fancast” and “Best Graphic Story”; a “YA Hugo” seems as justified as either of those categories. These are all interesting and important questions, and I don’t have any solid answers for you.

What does all this mean for Chaos Horizon? Well, it means that I should be very careful when predicting YA novels to make a Hugo or Nebula slate. While not an impossibility, these are a rarity, and will likely need some other major factor (overwhelming popularity, author’s pre-existing reputation) to be viable candidates. Chaos Horizon has been trying—with varying degrees of success—to build its predictions on solid data. Data is always changing, and if the members of either the SFWA or the WorldCon want to see more YA novels on their slates, all they have to do is vote them on.

Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a look at any potential 2015 candidates. Any questions about this Report? Any big surprises?

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?

Young Adult Fiction and the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Part 3

Let’s get right into it. The slice of the Nebula pie for YA novels is even smaller than the Hugo’s 6%:

Nebula and YA

In the 2001-2014 period, only two YA novels have been nominated for a Nebula:
2009: Powers, Ursula K. Le Guin (won the Nebula)
2009: Little Brother, Cory Doctorow

Once again, we have 2009 as the outlier year, and both Le Guin and Doctorow were already well known to Nebula voters. Le Guin, in particular, has such a formidable Nebula reputation that I’m not sure this should be seen as a win for YA fiction, but rather as a win for Le Guin. Nonetheless, part of Le Guin’s reputation is tied to her YA Earthsea series; if anyone is going to win a Nebula for a YA novel, it’s Le Guin.

If you want to feel better about YA fiction, we can make the same observation we made about the Hugo: YA fiction has a hard time making the slate, but, once it’s on the slate, it wins. Of course, 1 win in a 14 year period isn’t a significant enough sample size to make real conclusions.

The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy was established by the SFWA in 2005, and while this has been a great venue for honoring YA fiction, it may have removed any YA novels from serious Nebula consideration. In the decade since we’ve had the award, no novel has appeared both on the Andre Norton slate and on the Nebula slate. Even novels that might have received some Nebula consideration in the past such as Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze or Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine found themselves “only” winning the Andre Norton.

Since the Andre Norton process runs parallel to the Nebula, and is voted on by the same pool of SFWA writers, I imagine voters have been only nominating a novel for either of the awards, not both. The fact that Le Guin or Doctorow did not receive Andre Norton nominations can act as confirmation of this, although we lack enough data to draw a true conclusion.

So, just like the Hugo, YA novels have difficulty making the Nebula slate: 2% is a very small number. When we add other observations about which YA novels were nominated—one from a SFWA grandmaster, and the other from a well-regarded prior Nebula nominee—it’s hard to argue that any YA novels are likely to make future Nebula slates. Awards change over time, and there’s nothing stopping from SFWA writers from shifting how they vote. However, based on the patterns of the past decade+, it does not appear those voters are considering YA novels in any serious way for the Nebula.

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up this report, and then we can turn to thinking about any potential YA Hugo or Nebula nominees for 2015.

Young Adult Fiction and the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Part 2

At first glance, the Hugo Award for Best Novel may seem hospitable to Young Adult Fiction. After all, J.K. Rowling won the Hugo in 2001 for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Neil Gaiman won in 2009 for The Graveyard Book. For the 2001-2014 period, that represents a healthy 14% of all winners.

Dig deeper into the slates and ballots, though, and you’ll see that Rowling and Gaiman are exceptions. In the 2001-2014 period, only 4 YA novels have made the Hugo slate:
2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
2009: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
2009: Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
2009: Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi

Several things pop out here. First off, that’s a weak 6% of all nominees, indicating that YA novels are getting very little consideration from Hugo voters. Second, many of those nominees are by writers that were already well known to the Hugo audience. Gaiman had a 2002 Hugo win for American Gods, and he also turned down a nomination for Anasazi Boys. Scalzi had two prior nominations to his credit when Zoe’s Tale—a YA take on his Old Man’s War series—made the slate. Doctorow had two prior Hugo nominations for short fiction, and a 2005 Nebula nomination for Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Lastly, most of these nominations are clustered in 2009, a real statistical oddity. Was 2008 simply a weak year for adult fiction, or did this represent a Hugo embrace of the YA genre? Taking a look at the 2009 Locus Awards, it seems to have been a rather slow year. Stephenson published Anathem, all 1000 pages of it, but that’s the only real SFF heavy-hitter from 2008. As we’ll see tomorrow, the 2009 Nebula slate is equally YA inflected.

That leaves only Rowling as an author that truly emerged from the Children’s Lit/YA world, and she was a once in a generation publishing phenomenon. Let’s take a look at this visually:

Hugo and YA

That’s a pretty striking graph, and the conclusion we have to reach is fairly obvious: the Hugo slate has not been hospitable to YA fiction. The only time YA fiction seems to make the slate is when it’s by well known authors. This is one of the reasons I haven’t been predicting YA fiction to make the Hugo slate. Unless it’s a novel by Gaiman, Scalzi, Stross, Bujold, or one of the other Hugo darlings, these books don’t have seem to have much of a chance. It takes an unusual convergence of factors for a YA novel to make the Hugo slate, and, statistically speaking, this will has only been happening a few times a decade.

There is an interesting discussion to be had here. Even though YA novels don’t often make the Hugo slate, when they do make that slate, they win. I’m not sure if this is just a statistical anomaly due to Rowling and Gaiman’s world-shattering popularity—I have a feeling Gaiman would be competitive for a Hugo with Gaiman’s Big Book of Laundry Lists—or it represents something more.

Given the popularity of YA fiction, why is this happening? Do Hugo voters just not think about nominating YA novels? Do they perceive the Hugo as an adult fiction award? Are they uneducated/unaware of the YA field? Despite this, once people have the option of voting for YA on a final slate—which involves checking a box rather than filling out a list—they seem more than happy with YA. It’s a conundrum, and one I don’t know how to resolve. If a YA novel were to make the 2015 slate, would it be a favorite? Of those 4 YA novels that have made a slate, 50% have won—a truly great percentage.

Chaos Horizon works by data-mining, and I don’t like to second guess the data. The numbers suggest that only 6% of a potential Hugo slate will be YA, so that’s what I’ll predict. That means I need to predict 1 YA novel for every 19 Adult novels. My Hugo Prediction is actually getting up to that length (last count, 26 novels), so I better predict at least one YA novel soon.

Deeper in the Ballot: Since the Hugo Awards provides complete balloting information, we can look even deeper into the awards. Here’s the YA novels that have made the Top 15 in the Hugo voting for 2011-2014. I’d have gone a few years earlier, but a lot of the links on the Hugo Award website are broken. In this time period, no YA novels made the final slate. Since this is the most recent data, 2015 will likely follow this pattern:

2011:
10. Shipbreaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, 7.2%
2012:
None
2013:
13. Railsea, China Mieville, 5.48%
2014:
15. Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson, 4.26%

So, out of the Top 15 Hugo lists from 2011-2014, only 3 of 60 works were YA, for around the same 5% we saw above. You can’t ignore the patterns here: all by men, and all by well-known authors (including two former winners). There doesn’t seem, at least in the last few years, much consideration being given to YA authors. I think Railsea is a good test case: most of Mieville’s adult novels have made the Hugo slate, but his YA book only places #13. I actually liked Shipbreaker better than The Windup Girl, as I felt it was better-paced and cleaner, but it looks like YA vs. Adult costs even Bacigalupi 10 or so places in the Hugo noms. For a relative Hugo unknown, that bias is just too much to overcome.

Conclusions: YA novels make up only 5-6% of the Hugo slate in the 2001-2014 period, despite YA novels winning 2 Hugos in that same time period. Most of those YA authors were already well known to the Hugo audience, indicating that Hugo voters are willing to consider YA novels by their favorite SFF authors, but not authors from the YA world. So, if you were looking for data that confirms the Hugos are biased against YA authors, here you have it.

We’ll tackle the Nebulas tomorrow.

Young Adult Fiction and the Hugo and Nebula Awards: A Chaos Horizon Report

Over the past week or two, I’ve been asked several times about Young Adult fiction, and why Chaos Horizon doesn’t spent much time tracking that sub-genre of SFF. That’s an important and significant question, and I wanted to take a little bit of time to thoroughly address the issue. Over the past month, I’ve been studying the issue of Genre and the Hugo and Nebulas, and that (lengthy) report will be ready to launch next week. As part of that study, all the relevant YA data also fell out, so I’ll go ahead and present that information separately.

Let me make a couple introductory comments, and then I’ll launch into a multi-part report:

Part 1: Introductory Comments and Methodology
Part 2: The Hugo Awards and YA Fiction
Part 3: The Nebula Awards and YA Fiction
Part 4: Conclusions and Discussion

I’ll then follow that up with some analysis of 2014’s YA crop to see if any of those novels have a chance of making this year’s Hugo or Nebula slate.

Introductory Comments: Young Adult fiction has always been an essential part of the SFF scene, going back to The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia, to Heinlein’s juveniles, moving through important and genre-defining works like Earthsea or A Wrinkle and Time, and on to our present day YA dystopian boom. YA novels help to build new generations of SFF fans, and they provide a space for innovation and experimentation outside the pressures of being “adult fiction,” whatever that means. In our moment of 2014, YA novels are broadly read by both younger and adult readers, and their popularity often eclipses adult SFF novels.

Despite that importance, YA works have rarely been in the mix for the Hugo or Nebula awards. In this study, we’ll be looking to see how substantial that bias is, and I’ll discuss how this impacts the predictive work I do here. Remember, Chaos Horizon looks at what is “likely” to happen, not what “should” happen. The method of analysis (data-mining) I use reproduces past biases in future predictions, so if the Hugo and the Nebula have been biased against YA fiction in the past, Chaos Horizon will predict that bias as continuing into the future.

This is an obvious shortcoming of data analysis. When I started Chaos Horizon, I made a commitment to that shortcoming because I wanted to offer something other than “just” my opinion about the awards, which was very likely to be wrong. There are plenty of opinion-driven websites out there; I wanted Chaos Horizon to be data-driven, with all the possibilities and problems that brings. I’d never argue that data-driven is inherently superior to opinion-driven; they are simply different ways of looking at the same issue, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. As a community, I think we’re best off when we have the most information available to us, and I want Chaos Horizon to simply be part of the larger puzzle.

Any prediction or report that I produce should always be taken in the light of starting a discussion rather than finishing one. The unique value of this website lies in giving a statistical underpinning for Hugo/Nebula debates. By seeing the data, the patterns, and biases of the past, only then can we begin shaping the future. The Hugo and Nebula are both living awards, and there’s a rich discussion to be had about the possible inclusion of YA fiction in the Hugo and Nebula.

Methodology: For this study, I’ll be looking at the # of number of wins and nominations for YA novels in the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel categories from 2001-2014. I use that 2001 date because, for me at least, it marks the “modern” era of the Hugo and Nebula, inaugurated by J.K. Rowling’s win for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That win marks a substantive shift in the Hugo, opening up the award to fantasy and YA works.

How do we define Young Adult? That’s a tricky one, as Young Adult is often used as a marketing rather than a genre term. When faced with these kinds of difficult decisions, I try not to insert my opinion (who cares if I think Railsea is or isn’t YA?), but to find something more objective. In this case, I’ll looking at marketing and reader reception. If a book was labeled or marketed as YA, I’ll consider it YA, and I’ll be using Amazon to check that. Second, if a majority of readers considered the book YA, I’ll consider it YA. Since 2003, Locus Magazine provides an annual list of the Best SF, Fantasy, and YA SFF, voted on by a large number of readers. I figure if the Locus readers think something is YA, that’s what the larger SFF community is thinking. If you’ve got a more objective way to measure this, let me know.

So, get to thinking about Young Adult novels and the Hugo and Nebula awards. How biased do you think the Hugos and Nebulas have been in the past? Are they beginning to change? Have they already changed? Or has the introduction of the Andre Norton Award in 2005 moved YA novels out of Hugo and Nebula consideration? To what extend does a website like Chaos Horizon need to track YA fiction to make good Hugo and Nebula predictions?

I’ll be back tomorrow with data and charts, so stay tuned. Any preliminary questions, comments, or thoughts?

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem Review Round-Up

In many ways, Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem was the most important SF novel published in English in 2014. Already a best-seller in China, The Three-Body Problem deals with the Cultural Revolution, the meaning of scientific knowledge, and the transforming/disruptive power of alien contact. On it’s surface, this is a book about Chinese scientists grappling with first contact, as they attempt to communicate with an advanced alien civilization and to prepare Earth for the coming of those aliens. More profoundly, it is a book about disruption (the third-body of the title), and how seemingly stable systems (East/West, science/faith, etc.) fall apart in the face of increased complexity.

Like the third-bodies of his title, Liu provides a powerful alternative to models of SF (and thought) currently popular in the United States and the United Kingdom. The American-British science fiction scene has been remarkably insular over the past few decades, largely ignoring what’s going on in SF in the rest of the world. While a few Japanese SF writers are beginning to creep in, largely via the Haikasorou imprint, The Three-Body Problem was published by Tor (one of the premier SFF presses), translated by a rising SFF star in Ken Liu, and had the kind of marketing push that only a major publisher can provide. As such, Liu has more of a chance of making an impact on the current SF scene.

The Three-Body Problem is probably too strange and too unusual to factor into the 2015 Hugo and Nebula awards, both of which have scrupulously avoided foreign-language authors over the past several decades. At some point, the American-British focus of those awards is going to snap, but I doubt it’s this year. The Three Body-Problem is also a difficult book, asking readers to leap from the Cultural Revolution to the political meaning of the Copenhagen interpretation, from nanomaterials to a video game, from first contact to political revolutions. Figures from Chinese history jostle against Western scientists like Newton and Einstein. While I enjoyed the demands this book placed on the reader, and found the flow of ideas fascinating, I can also understand how this might be off-putting to a casual or crossover science fiction fan. Liu is not particularly interested in characters or plot in a more conventional sense, and someone looking for those narrative aspects is likely to be disappointed by The Three-Body Problem.

Lastly, Liu freely moves from realism to allegory in ways that likely challenge his reading audience. While some of the scientific sections are sound, others are deliberately exaggerated. Near the end, there’s a bravura sequence where an alien civilization “unravels” a proton from 11 dimensions to 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, and then inscribes some sort of computer on that seemingly miniscule space. It’s one of the most fascinating pieces of bullshit I’ve read in years, but it is bullshit nonetheless. This is SF that isn’t afraid to break from realism, and I think Liu uses that break from reality to profound effect. While this echoes some of what Haruki Murakami is doing with his work in Japan, it’s a new concept for American and British SF writers, and I imagine it will take years for us to fully process how Liu is changing the rules of SF. I suspect the second part of this trilogy–coming out next year–will help us make more sense of this challenging work.

So, since Chaos Horizon is an awards website dedicated to predicting the Hugo and Nebula award, what are Liu’s chances? None? There’s no precedent in recent Hugo or Nebula history for a foreign-language book to break into those awards, no matter how deserving. Hopefully The Three-Body Problem will starts discussions about that insularity, but discussions aren’t enough to grab nominations. I think this was an important book—in fact, it’s been my favorite SF book of 2014, and probably the most interesting SF novel of the last 4 or 5 years—but that’s not necessarily reflected in the awards. The Hugo and Nebula provide a fascinating mix of the popular, the important, and the familiar, and The Three-Body Problem would need a huge push from the SF press to get into awards convention. Given some of the reviews linked below, it doesn’t quite look like it’s catching on. We’ll see.

Three-Body Problem

First published in English on November 11, 2014.

Originally published in Chinese in 2008.

About the Book:
Article by Cixin Liu on The Three-Body Problem
Goodreads page
Amazon page

Mainstream Reviews:
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
NPR
NY Times (not a review, but an article on Cixin Liu and Chinese SF)
A.V. Club (C)

An interesting mix of positive and negative. Three Body-Problem has gotten a good (not great) amount of coverage, but some of it has expressed reservations concerning Liu’s use of characters. Throw in a measured review at Tor.com (I don’t formally list Tor.com because I’m suspicious of Tor reviewing books it publishes), and we’re seeing a solid—but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic—mainstream reception.

WordPress Blog Reviewers:
Bree’s Book Blog (4 out of 5)
Bibliotropic (5 out of 5)
Mountain was Here
Intellectus Speculativus
The Dinglehopper
Violin in a Void (7 out of 10)
Michael Patrick Hicks
Avid Reviews (9 out of 10)

In general, a positive set of reviews, speaking highly of Cixin Liu’s mind-boggling ideas, with some reservations expressed due to lack of characterization and the complexity of some of the physics. I’d say that WordPress bloggers have actually done a better job of “getting” and “understanding” the novel than the mainstream reviewers have. Cixin Liu’s strengths as a writer make up for any weakness he might have in terms of structure, particularly if you allow yourself to be open to an entirely different model of SF.

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