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Hugo/Nebula Conteders and Popularity, October 2015

Here in New Mexico, fall is in the air, and 2015 is shockingly close to being over. It’s time to turn our attention to the 2016 awards seasons. Last year, I tried to track Goodreads stats a measure of popularity. This year, I’m tracking both Amazon and Goodreads.

I’ve been disappointed in both of those measures; neither seems particularly accurate or consistent, and they don’t seem to predict the eventual Hugo/Nebula winner at all. What is useful about them, though, is getting at least an early picture of what is popular and what is not. I do believe there is a minimum popularity cut off, where if you fall below a certain level (1000-2000 Goodreads votes), you don’t have much of a shot at winning a Hugo or Nebula. This also allows good comparisons between books that are similar to each other. If you think Uprooted and Sorcerer to the Crown are both contenders as “experimental”-ish fantasy books, one of those (Uprooted) is 10 times more popular than the other. If you had to pick between one of them being nominated, go with Novik.

We’re also very early—some of the biggest Hugo/Nebula contenders haven’t even come out yet! That’ll happen by next week. October 6 is one of the biggest publishing days of 2015, with new books by Leckie, Martin, Hurley, and Sanderson all hitting the shelves. Once we’re through that push, almost all of the major SFF books of 2015 will have been published, and we’ll really have chance to begin sifting through the year. At this point, a lot of readers don’t yet know what their “best” book of the year was, but that’ll become clearer over the next 2-3 months. So, on to the chart:

Table 1: Popularity of Hugo/Nebula Contenders, October 1, 2015
Popularity Chart October 2015

If you haven’t thought about popularity at all so far for 2015, this chart is very revealing. We have a tier of SFF novels that have sold very well, in that 10,000+ range on Goodreads. Armada, despite being broadly hated by segments of the SFF community for being too similar to Ready Player One and too pandering to 1980s nostalgia, already leads the pack. The vitriol surrounding that book will likely prevent it from receiving either a Hugo or Nebula nom; massive popularity, particularly when joined with negative reviews, can be a negative rather than a positive. The Ishiguro is more of a mainstream/literary text, and although moderately well-reviewed, is probably too much outside the SFF bailiwick to be a serious Hugo/Nebula contender.

That leaves Seveneves and Uprooted as early favorites. Seveneves is doing extraordinarily well on Amazon rankings, and is the kind of big, traditional, epic SF novel you think would do well at the Hugos. The Nebulas have ignored Stephenson since The Diamond Age; if Cryptonomicon and Anathem didn’t get Nebula noms, I’m not sure why Seveneves would. As I’ve written elsewhere, Uprooted is an early favorite for both Hugo and Nebula noms; it’s got the sales, the critical reviews, and the buzz.

Darker Shade of Magic isn’t a book I’ve considered much for a Hugo/Nebula nomination so far; maybe I need to change that. I’ll be interested to see if this shows up on year-end lists as a “best of.” Note how much better this book does on Goodreads than Amazon. That’s a good example of how those two different websites (despite both being owned by Amazon!) survey different audiences.

Other than those books, a couple things pop out at me from the chart. I haven’t seen a lot of online discussion of The Water Knife, but rankings are strong for that book. This is Bagicalupi’s first adult SF novel since his Hugo and Nebula winning The Windup Girl, and has to be considered a strong contender. Walton, Robinson, Scalzi, and Liu have all done fine: neither good nor bad, and have to be counted still in the mix.

Some books that got good pre-release buzz seem to have fallen flat in these popularity measures. Dinosaur Lords was talk of the town for a while, but that doesn’t seem to have translated to readers. The Okorafor is surprising; Book of Phoenix is the prequel to the Nebula nominated Who Fears Death, but those are very weak numbers 4 months after publication. I don’t think we can consider this a Nebula contender unless those numbers pick up.

Obviously, things are fluid. Last year’s Hugo winner The Three-Body Problem didn’t come out until November. Thins around going to change: the Sanderson is going to bound up the list in the next month, but is a western version of Mistborn appealing enough to break into the Hugo top 5? Is something like The Fifth Season, already off to a good start, going to accelerate or stall? Time will tell. Keep tuned!

As a fun comparison, check out the October 2014 list (from October 31, 2014, not October 1, so it’s not quite parallel) to see what the picture looked like last year.

Lastly, any books missing form the list that should be on? Chaos Horizon is just beginning to spin its gears for 2015, and I don’t want to leave any strong contenders off.

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