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Off to Colorado; No Posts for a Week

I’m off to Colorado for the week to meet up with the family—no Chaos Horizon posts for the week (6/12-6/20). Things are quiet in June anyways. When I get back, we’ll starting crunching the numbers for the Hugo prediction, and then I’m going to post my too-Early Nebula 2016 Prediction on July 1. See you then!

Official Chaos Horizon Motto

I was reading Philip K. Dick’s Vulcan’s Hammer, and came across this quote:

There is some element misfunctioning. A significant shift in the orientation of certain social strata which cannot be explained in terms of data already available to me. A realignment of the social pyramid is forming in response to historic-dynamic factors unfamiliar to me. I must know more if I am to deal with this.

Seems perfect for an official CH motto: “I must know more if I am to deal with this.” I added it to the by-line.

Every website needs a motto, doesn’t it?

Off to New Orleans

I’m heading to New Orleans tomorrow for the PCA/ACA conference. I’ll be presenting on historicity in Fantasy novels on Saturday morning, so drop by the conference if you get a chance!

Fortunately, this means I’ll get to miss some of the initial furor when the Hugo nominations come out this Saturday. Rumors are that some 60% of the Best Novel Hugo slate will be from the Sad Puppies, and that their impact on the rest of the ballot will be even greater. I’ll be back in the middle of next week to discuss some of the numerical implications of the results, whatever they are.

Everyone enjoy the weekend!

Terry Pratchett Dies at 66

A sad day for SFF fandom, with the passing of Terry Pratchett at 66. Pratchett had been dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The Telegraph has a nice page of various tributes.

Pratchett was one of our great—if not the greatest—fantasy humorists. His long-running Discworld series is a wealth of humor, satire, and imagination; it has never gotten the credit it deserves as one of the best and most inventive fantasy series of the 1980s and 1990s.

I first read The Light Fantastic when I was in middle school. I bought the book at a bookstore on pure speculation, knowing nothing about it. Given that this is a direct sequel to The Colour of Magic, I read Pratchett’s book in a state of amazed confusion. I remember having no idea what was going on, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer scope of creation on display in the book: wizards, tourists, homicidal luggage. I told all my friends about Pratchett, and we proceeded to tear through his books over the next several weeks: The Colour of Magic, Mort (still a favorite of mine), and Equal Rites. Pratchett’s ability to continual generate new plotlines and new characters for his world, his ability to use fantasy not as a space of repetition but of innovation, his skill at poking fun at our society through the lens of another society, all placed him in the first class of fantasy writers.

I’ve read Pratchett my whole life. When I finished my dissertation—about the role of the Post Office in American literature—I celebrated by reading Going Postal. Just this summer I wrote an essay about Pratchett, Albert Camus, and the Luggage, set to appear in the forthcoming Discworld and Philosophy. Pratchett was one of the authors of my life, who touched me in my teens, twenties, and thirties. The world is lesser for not having him in it.

Pratchett never won a Hugo or Nebula award. Neither awards have ever known what to do with humorous/satirical SFF. Both awards failed to live up to the imagination that Pratchett showed in his best work: it’s easier to celebrate the serious and prestigious than the fantastic. Our field should have done better. Pratchett did receive Nebula nominations late in his career, in 2006 (Going Postal) and 2009 (Making Money). Neither are among his best books. Mort, Guards! Guards!, and Small Gods all would have been worthy winners, but I’d draw your attention to 2003, the year that Robert Sawyer won the Hugo for Hominids. Pratchett published The Night Watch in 2002, a twisty time-travel caper, that would have been an outstanding winner for that year.

None of that matters: Pratchett’s books matter. His legacy will stand, and I have no doubt that young SFF fans will be book up Pratchett books for decades to come, and discovering the same fantastic worlds that I did when I was a child.

Thank you, Terry, for everything you’ve done for me.

Celebrating One Year of Chaos Horizon!

Exactly one year ago I launched Chaos Horizon with my first post:

Chaos Horizon is a blog with a simple purpose: to predict the winners of the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novel. To do so, I’ll be examining past trends in the Nebula and Hugo awards. By closely data mining this information, I’ll develop a predictive model that will allow us to make some educated guesses as to the eventual winner. Given the prestige of these two awards, they receive remarkably little analysis or prediction on the web. Hopefully Chaos Horizon can close that gap.

Little did I know what I was getting into! It’s been an interesting year, and Chaos Horizon has certainly changed a great deal over the last 12 months. I started the website for two main reasons:

1. I’m a little older (turning 40 in November), and I felt pretty disconnected from social media and the discussions going on in those places. While I’ve always been a SFF fan, I was so busy through the 2000s going to graduate school (i.e. I was locked up in a library) and then starting out as a college professor (i.e. I was locked in my office) that I didn’t get much of chance to keep up with the changing way that SFF fandom communicates. I thought starting a blog would be an interesting way to jump back into those conversations.
2. I love predictions, statistics, and lists, and I like disagreeing with those just as much as I like agreeing with them. For the Pulitzer Prize, there’s a great prediction website. For things like the Nobel Prize and the Booker, several websites publish betting odds. When I tried to look for these same things for the Hugo and Nebula, I couldn’t find them. Since I didn’t want my website to be 100% my opinions, I figured I’d take a shot at filling that gap.

And thus the history of Chaos Horizon! I’m trying to use data-mining techniques to come up with odds for the Hugo and Nebula awards. It’s been an interesting—and at times frustrating—problem to work on. The Hugos and Nebulas are awfully erratic, and they are full of all sorts of quirks and twists about what gets nominated and why. I feel like the various Reports I’ve issued have provided some clarity, but there’s still plenty to do. The awards are also changing very rapidly, and that makes any predictive work difficult.

Traffic: Always an intriguing question for websites. I think most bloggers are shy about sharing their stats, as if web traffic reflects the worth or meaning of a website. I didn’t have a lot of traffic expectations for Chaos Horizon: it seems to me that this kind of stat-work is a touch on the dull side, and the online SFF community is fairly small. Since I keep a fairly neutral tone (i.e. I don’t try to click-bait by weighing in on the various SFF tempests and controversies), I figured that would also hurt traffic.

But, good grief, was traffic slow in the first six months of Chaos Horizon! I had some naïve idea that if I started a blog, people would just pop out of the air to see it. In all of May 2014, for instance, I had a grand total of 23 views! Most of that is my fault, as I hadn’t the vaguest idea of how anything worked when it came to blogging.

Traffic began to pick up in August 2014, when I leapt from 41 views (total, not daily!) in July to 800 in August. This was when I published my first Nebula prediction, which caught some traction in the wider SFF world. That also when I started doing Review Round-Ups and actually linking to other blogs, which helped make me part of the community than an outsider to it.

Chaos Horizon has grown steadily since them. In 2015, I’m currently averaging about 150 views/day and 1000 views/week. That seems like an enormous increase in just a year, but, then again, I have no idea what other people’s blogs average. In the long run, it doesn’t matter: I enjoy what I do on Chaos Horizon, and I’m not doing it for the clicks.

I want to thank some of the early supporters of Chaos Horizon, including bloggers like From Couch to Moon, Reading SFF, Violin in a Void, Books, Brain and Beer, Far Beyond Reality, Lady Business, Nerds of a Feather, and the many others who have linked and discussed Chaos Horizon. I also want to thank the many people who have commented on Chaos Horizon; I appreciate your discussions, questions, and objections, and I look forward to more!

The Future: More of the same! There can never be enough stats, charts, and analysis. Through March and into April, I’ll be building up my Hugo and Nebula predictions for 2015. These will be a mathematical model of 10-12 different factors that contribute to the award, and we’ll end up with a % chance for each of the nominees to win. I also have plans to continue my reports: next up is Sequels, and then I’ll be tackling the issues of Gender, Book Length, and Age. Then I’ll shift my attention to 2016.

Well, once again, thank you to everyone who has contributed to the success of the first year of Chaos Horizon! Happy reading!

Debuting the Awards Meta-List

I like collations on Chaos Horizon: I think gathering a wide range of opinions on SFF gives us a better overall feel than relying on one source. I’ve done this for the SFF Critics Best of 2014, for the Mainstream Best of 2014, and now I’m launching a new list meta-list: Awards 2015. What this will do is collate award nominations from the 2015 SFF awards season. I’m going with widely known novel awards that are specific to the SFF field (so no Stoker, because that’s horror, and no Sturgeon because that’s short fiction, no Aurealis because that’s only Australian, etc.). For now, I’m planning on tracking the 15 awards listed below. That’s a lot of awards for a relatively small community to give! I’m only counting the “novel” category, so things like “debut novel” aren’t making the cut. Check out the excellent Science Fiction Award database for descriptions of the awards and a history of them.

Since each award approaches the field differently (some SF only, some fantasy only, some juried, some voted, some American, some British, etc.) the totality of them should give us a good idea of the state of the field as a whole. Here’s the list:
Arthur C. Clarke
British Fantasy
British SF
Campbell
Compton Crook
Crawford
Gemmell
Hugo
Kitschies
Locus (EDIT: I’ll count the Locus Science Fiction and the Locus Fantasy as separate awards)
Nebula
Philip K. Dick
Prometheus
Tiptree
World Fantasy

EDIT (3/5/15): Doug in the comments usefully reminded me that the Locus has both Science Fiction and Fantasy categories. I think the Locus is fairly predictive of the Hugos, as it is a voted award by SFF fans. Because of that, I’m going to count them both as separate awards, which brings us up from that tidy 15 awards to an ugly 16 awards. So it goes.

Methodology is simple: I’ve creates an Excel matrix to track each award’s nominees and winners. You get 1 point for getting nominated, and then I sum up the points. I’m marking winners with green. Not many awards have announced their nominees yet: the Philip K. Dick, the Kitschies, the BSFA, and the Nebulas.

Because we’re so early, we don’t have a lot of useful info yet. 22 different authors have been nominated for those 4 awards, showing there isn’t a ton of agreement across the field as to what the “major” books were in 2014. Only two novels have shown up in more than one award:

Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor: 2 points (Kitschies, BSFA)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: 2 points (BSFA, Nebula)

Remember, Lagoon didn’t get a 2014 US publication, so it’s pretty unlikely to show up in the more US-centric awards. Leckie had a dominating run last year with Ancillary Justice, showing up in 7 of these 15 awards and winning 4 (Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Clarke, as well as some lesser awards like British Fantasy best Newcomer and Locus Magazine’s First Novel). 50% nomination rate seems about the high-water mark: if anyone can manage that this year, they’ll have a good chance to win the Hugo and Nebula.

Over time, we should start to see more patterns. Congratulations to Grasshopper Jungle, which just won the Kitschie. Here’s the in-progress matrix: 2015 Awards Meta-List.

Amazon Announces Man in the High Castle Television Pilot

This one was too weird to pass up: Amazon has announced they’re adapting Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle for their upcoming pilot season:

Based on Philip K. Dick’s Hugo-award-winning tale of the same name, the Ridley Scott-produced spy drama The Man in the High Castle takes on the alternative timeline of what would have happened if the Allied Powers lost World War II. The hour-long pilot will take place 20 years after the war and will have the world split between the two Axis Powers, Japan and Germany, and will star Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank, Rupert Evans, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Joel De La Fuente, Rufus Sewell, and DJ Qualls. David Semel will direct the pilot with a script written by Frank Spotnitz. Scott will executive produce alongside David W. Zucker, Jordan Sheehan, Stewart Mackinnon, Christian Baute, Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan, and Christopher Tricarico.

What’s with the mad rush to get SF television shows on the air? We’ve heard in the past year alone announcement/development deals for The Expanse, Redshirts, Foundation, Lock In, Ancillary Justice and more. After years of essentially ignoring science fiction, networks now can’t get enough. I fear, though, this is just a matter of Hollywood following the herd. One network announces a new SF series, and everyone has to rush to get their own just in case these are successful. Expect a lot of these shows to never make it to air, and, if they do, to get cancelled quickly.

Still, it’s an interesting time for SF fans. I can’t imagine The Man in the High Castle as a successful series: the whole Nazi’s win WWII is pretty intense for television, and it’s not like Dick’s works are known for their easily-accessible plots. I’m also not sure how you extended a 300 page book into an opened-ended series. I just hope this entire crop of new SF shows doesn’t crash and burn, which would hurt the SF television market for years.

2014 Nebula Award Prediction: Indicator #10

This is more of a speculative indicator: surely the kind of rankings a book receives (both in terms of how many rankings and total score) gives us some indication of how it’ll do. I’m thinking specifically of the rankings on Amazon and Goodreads as solid indicators of public reaction to a text. Take a look at the Amazon ranking of Martin’s A Game of Thrones (4.4) versus A Feast for Crows (3.6). The first book is widely beloved; the fourth in his series is considered a disappointment. That’s just an example to show how different such scores can be varying on whether the book is liked or not. Presumably, a book has to be well liked to win the Nebula.

Unfortunately, there’s no historical data for this, as we can’t go back in time and see how the Nebula nominees were ranked/scored on Goodreads or Amazon when they were nominated. After the nominations–and particularly the winner–comes out, this drives new readers to the books, which taints any statistical significance those rankings might have.

Nonetheless, we can start collecting data and see if any correlation show up in future years, thus 2015 and beyond. Right now, the weight of Indicator #10 will be 0, as there is not enough data to be reliable or meaningful yet.

Goodreads and Amazon provide us with two useful reader rankings: number of rankings (showing how many people have read the book), and then an actual score (whether they liked the book). More readers + more positive reaction has to equal more wins, doesn’t it?

Indicator #10: The novel is frequently reviewed and highly scored on Goodreads and Amazon.

Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees, as of right after the nominations:
Indicator 10
Where AMZ = Amazon, and GR = Goodreads.

What does this data mean? Who knows? A couple things seem clear: the easiest way to get high scores is to not be rated much. I suspect some kind of correlation can be worked up, but we don’t have enough data to make that clear. Interestingly, our frontrunners (Gaiman and Leckie) are middle of the pack when it comes to scores, but Gaiman obviously has a clear advantage to how often his book has been read. For all we know, the most read book every year might win the Nebula. We’ll have to wait for some more years of data to see.

2014 Nebula Prediction: Indicator #5

This is a simple one: is the Nebula Award for Best Novel biased towards science fiction or fantasy?

The SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers) began as a SF organization, and it still prefers SF titles in these awards. Since 2000, SF novels have won 9/13 times, for a robust 69.2%. If you include the previous 20 years (1980-1999), SF novels have won 26/33 times, for a staggering 78.8%. We can even see this bias last year, when 2312 won over 5 fantasy novels.

Interestingly, fantasy novels don’t suffer in terms of nominations. Since 2000, there are 36 F noms versus 43 SF noms. While you could quibble probably with the categorization of a couple novels, this is roughly equal. Even this year we have 4 fantasy novels squaring off against 4 SF novels.

So, that makes:

Indicator #5: Nominee is a science fiction novel (69.2%).

This year is an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction nominees:
Indicator 5
This is the first time Gaiman doesn’t have a clear advantage. While there are 4 science fiction novels, Fowler’s book pushes the limits of genre. If the SF voting crowd is looking for an alternative, they might coalesce around Leckie.

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