Tag Archive | 2015 Nebula Award

Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation Wins Nebula: Instant Analysis

Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, the first part of his Southern Reach trilogy, won the Nebula Award for Best Novel tonight.

Congratulations to VanderMeer. I’ve been an avid VanderMeer fan for more than a decade, and City of Saints and Madmen is my favorite fantasy novel from the 2000s. That novel is an experimental masterpiece, a collection of four linked novellas that takes place in Ambergris, a fantastically weird city that may (or may not) be overrun by a race of mysterious mushroom creatures. It’s a fabulous mash-up of Pynchon-esque conspiracy, Kafka-esque weirdness, David Foster Wallace-style textual shenanigans (footnotes and what not), and high fantasy imagination. It’s certainly not a novel for everyone, and I never imagined that VanderMeer would pass over from the fringe to the mainstream. VanderMeer had always been too weird to be popular, too obtuse to be widely read, and it’s fascinating that he managed to evolve his style into something as accessible as Annihilation.

VanderMeer continued his Ambergris trilogy with the brilliant Shriek, a dual-layered pseudo-memoir about an art-dealer in Ambergris and his investigation of the mushroom men, and then wrapped it all up with Finch, a pseudo-noir that explained the mysteries of the mushroom race. The explanations are never as good as the mysteries, and VanderMeer is at his best when he’s delivering the what-the-hell-is-going-on ambiguity of City of Saints and Madmen. No book this side of The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Williamson does a better job of puzzling and intriguing the reader, and if you’re willing to take that journey with VanderMeer, you’ve got nothing but pure baffled enjoyment in front of you.

It’s that kind of absolute strangeness that flows through Annihilation. While VanderMeer has backed off some of his stylistic weirdness in this volume, he amps up the mystery, horror, and psychological intrigue. In this novel, a team is sent by the government to explore Area X, a patch of America that has gone entirely wonky. Aliens? Horrors? Government conspiracy? Drugs? Failed expedition after failed expedition hasn’t gotten to the bottom of what exactly is happening. Annihilation gives us a new expedition into Area X, and with it a descent into madness and mystery.

I don’t like Annihilation as much as VanderMeer’s other work. I’m reminded of what Cormac McCarthy did in his The Border Trilogy: he backed off some of his weirdness as a writer to make his work more accessible to readers. That’s worked extremely well in Annihilation, and it’s a great place to start for new VanderMeer readers. It’s the new audience that VanderMeer has attracted which has likely driven Annihilation to Nebula victory.

I’d still recommend City of Saints and Madmen over this. I even taught that novel in a 600 level Post-Modern literature seminar a few years ago. I also like Veniss Underground a great deal, although that novel is probably even fragmented and difficult than City of Saints and Madmen.

So why did Annihilation win the Nebula? It was one of the most celebrated genre novels of the year, showing up on critics year-end lists almost as often as Ancillary Sword. It did a great business, seeming to outsell Leckie (7,000 Goodreads ratings for Ancillary Sword as of 6/6/15) by a wide margin (23,000 Goodread ratings for Annihilation as of 6/6/15). VanderMeer was widely heralded this year in mainstream venues such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Annihilation is also a quick read, and works well as a stand-alone horror novel.

Lastly, VanderMeer has been an incredibly hardworking author over the last decade. He helped co-edit (with his wife) one of the best anthologies in recent memory, the massive and definitive The Weird. He’s also put his time in the trenches, even writing a Predator tie in novel (Predator: South China Seas, which is pretty good) and a Halo novella (forgettable). Despite boiling the pot to pay his bills, he’s someone who’s plugged away at his craft, publishing uncompromising and difficult works that had a limited audience. As he’s stepped into the mainstream, he’s done that with grace and success. The SFWA is a group of writers, and I they valued the writerly-ness of VanderMeer. I know I do: VanderMeer is one of the most unique and original authors working in the SF/Fantasy/Horror space. He deserves whatever honors he can get.

In my prediction work on Chaos Horizon, I had VanderMeer as the front runner most of the year. I moved VanderMeer up to the #1 spot in my November 2014 prediction, and kept him there until my Nebula Prediction formula kicked him down to #4. While that is certainly disappointing, the formula did give VanderMeer a 16.8% chance to win, only 3% behind Leckie’s formula leading 19.4%. To tighten up my formula, I’ll need to add indicators punishing (which would have moved Addison into the lead) and rewarding a high number of Goodreads ratings. It’s actually better for Chaos Horizon when the formula doesn’t work, particularly in these early years. This allows me to make corrections, and to make my predictions better in the future.

2015 Nebula Prediction: Final Results

Here we go . . . the official Chaos Horizon Nebula prediction for 2015!

Disclaimer: Chaos Horizon uses data-mining techniques to try and predict the Hugo and Nebula awards. While the model is explained in depth (this is a good post to start with) on my site, the basics are that I look for past patterns in the awards and then use those to predict future behavior.

Chaos Horizon predictions are not based on my personal readings or opinions of the books. There are flaws with this model, as there are with any model. Data-mining will miss sudden changes in the field, and it does not do a good job of taking into account the passion of individual readers. So take Chaos Horizon lightly, as an interesting mathematical perspective on the awards, and supplement my analysis with the many other discussions available on the web.

Lastly, Chaos Horizon predicts who is most likely to win based on past awards, not who “should” win in a more general sense.

Ancillary Sword Goblin Emperor Three-Body Problem
Annihilation Coming Home Trial By Fire

1. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword: 19.4%
2. Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor: 19.2%
3. Cixin Liu and Ken Liu (translator), The Three-Body Problem: 17.7%
4. Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation: 16.8%
5. Jack McDevitt, Coming Home: 16.5%
6. Charles Gannon, Trial by Fire: 10.4%

The margin is incredibly small this year, indicating a very close race. Last year, Leckie had an impressive 5% lead on Gaiman and an impressive 14% lead over third place Hild in the model. This year, Leckie has a scant .2% lead on Addison, and the top 5 candidates are all within a few percentage points of each other. I think that’s an accurate assessment of this year’s Nebula: there is no breakaway winner. You’ve got a very close race that’s going to come down to just a few voters. A lot of this is going to swing on whether or not voters want to give Leckie a second award in two years, or whether they prefer fantasy to science fiction (Addison would win in that case), or how receptive they are to Chinese-language science-fiction, or of they see Annihilation as SF and complete enough to win, etc.

Let’s break-down each of these by author, to see the strengths and weaknesses of their candidacy.

Ancillary Sword: Leckie’s sequel to her Hugo and Nebula winning Ancillary Justice avoided the sophomore jinx. While perhaps less inventive and exciting than Ancillary Justice, many reviewers and commenters noted that it was a better overall novel, with stronger characterization and writing. Ancillary Sword showed up on almost every year-end list and has already received the British Science Fiction Award. This candidacy is complicated, though, by the rareness of winning back-to-back Nebulas. She would join Samuel R. Delany, Frederik Pohl, and Orson Scott Card as the only back-to-back winners. Given how early Leckie is in her career (this is only her second novel), are SFWA voters ready to make that leap? Leckie also is competing against 4 other SF novels: it’s possible she could split the vote with someone like Cixin Liu, leaving the road open for Addison to win.

Still, Leckie is the safe choice this year. Due to all the attention and praise heaped on Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword was widely read and reviewed. More readers = more voters, even in the small pool of SFWA authors. People that are only now getting to The Three-Body Problem may have read Ancillary Sword months ago. I don’t think you can overlook the impact of this year’s Hugo controversy on the Nebulas: SFWA authors are just as involved in all those discussions, and giving Leckie two awards in a row may seem like a safe and stable choice amidst all the internet furor. If Ancillary Justice was a consensus choice last year, Ancillary Sword might be the compromise choice this year.

The Goblin Emperor: My model likes Addison’s novel because it’s the only fantasy novel in the bunch. If there is even a small pool of SFWA voters (5% or so) who only vote for fantasy, Addison has a real shot here. The Goblin Emperor also has had a great year: solid placement on year-end lists, a Hugo nomination, and very enthusiastic fan-reception. Of the six Nebula nominees this year, it’s the most different in terms of its approach to genre (along with Annihilation, I guess), giving a very non-standard take on the fantasy novel. The Nebula has liked those kinds of experiments recently. The more you think about it, the more you can talk yourself into an Addison win.

The Three-Body Problem: The wild-card of the bunch, and the one my model has the hardest time dealing with. This come out very late in the year—November—and that prevented it from making as many year-end lists as other books. Secondly, how are SFWA voters going to treat a Chinese-language novel? Do they stress the in A (America) in SFWA? Or do they embrace SF as a world genre? The Nebula Best Novel has never gone to a foreign-language novel before. Will it start now?

Lastly, do SFWA voters treat the novel as co-authored by Ken Liu (he translated the book), who is well known and well liked by the SFWA audience? Ken Liu is actually up for a Nebula this year in the Novella category for “The Regular.” I ended up (for the purposes of the model) treating Cixin Liu’s novel as co-authored by Ken Liu. Since Ken Liu was out promoting the novel heavily, Cixin Liu didn’t get the reception of a new author. I think many readers came into The Three-Body Problem because of Ken Liu’s reputation. If I hadn’t done that, this novel drops 1% point in the prediction, from 3rd to 5th place.

The Three Body-Problem hasn’t always received the best reviews. Check this fairly tepid take on the novel published this week by Strange Horizons. Liu is writing in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and other early SF writers, where character is not the emphasis in the book. If you’re expecting to deeply engaged by the characters of The Three Body-Problem, you won’t like the novel. Given that the Nebula has been leaning literary over the past few years, does that doom its chances? Or will the inventive world-building and crazy science of the book push it to victory? This is the novel I feel most uncertain about.

I had VanderMeer’s incredibly well-received start to his Southern Reach trilogy as the frontrunner for most of the year. However, VanderMeer has been hurt because of his lack of other SF awards this season: no Hugo, and he’s only made the Campbell out all of the other awards. I think this reflects some of the difficulty of Annihilation. It’s a novel that draws on weird fiction, environmental fiction, and science fiction, and readers may be having difficulty placing it in terms of genre. Add in that it is very short (I believe it would be the shortest Nebula winner if it ever wins) and clearly the first part of something bigger, is it stand-alone enough to win? The formula doesn’t think so, but formulas can be wrong. I wouldn’t be stunned by a VanderMeer win, but it seems a little unlikely at this point.

Coming Home: Ah, McDevitt. The ghost of the Nebula Best Novel category: he’s back for his 12th nomination. He’s only won once, but could it happen again? There’s a core of SFWA voters who must love Jack McDevitt. If the vote ends up getting split between everyone else, could they drive McDevitt to another victory? It’s happened once already, in 2007 with Seeker. I don’t see it happening, but stranger things have gone down in the Nebula.

Trial by Fire: The model hates Charles Gannon. He actually did well last year. According to my sources, he placed 3rd in the Nebula last year. Still, this is the sequel to that book, and sequels tend to move down in the voting. Gannon’s lack of critical acclaim and lack of Hugo success are what kills him in the model.

Remember, the model is a work in progress. This is only my second year trying to do this. The more data I collect, and the more we see how individual Nebula and Hugos go, the better the model will get. As such, just treat the model as a “for fun” thing. Don’t bet your house on it!

So, what do you think? Another win for Leckie? A fantasy win for Addison? A late tail-wind win for Liu?

2015 Nebula Prediction: Indicators and Weighting

One last little housekeeping post before I post my prediction later today. Here are the 10 indicators I settled on using:

Indicator #1: Author has previously been nominated for a Nebula (78.57%)
Indicator #2: Author has previously been nominated for a Hugo (71.43%)
Indicator #3: Author has previously won a Nebula for Best Novel (42.86%)
Indicator #4: Has received at least 10 combined Hugo + Nebula noms (50.00%)

Indicator #5: Novel is science fiction (71.43%)
Indicator #6: Places on the Locus Recommended Reading List (92.86%)
Indicator #7: Places in the Goodreads Best of the Year Vote (100.00%)
Indicator #8: Places in the Top 10 on the Chaos Horizon SFF Critics Meta-List (100.00%)

Indicator #9: Receives a same-year Hugo nomination (64.29%)
Indicator #10: Nominated for at least one other major SFF award (71.43%)

I reworded Indicator #4 to make the math a little clearer. Otherwise, these are the same as in my Indicator posts, which you can get to by clicking on each link.

If you want to see how the model is built, checking out the “Building the Model” posts.

I’ve tossed around including a “Is not a sequel” indicator, but that would take some tinkering, and I don’t like to tinker at this point in the process.

The Indicators are then weighted according to how well they’ve worked in the pass. Here are the weights I’ve used this year:

Indicator #1: 8.07%
Indicator #2: 8.65%
Indicator #3: 13.78%
Indicator #4: 11.93%
Indicator #5: 10.66%
Indicator #6: 7.98%
Indicator #7: 7.80%
Indicator #8: 4.24%
Indicator #9: 16.54%
Indicator #10: 10.34%

Lots of math, I know, but I’m going to past the prediction shortly!

2015 Nebula Prediction: Indicators #9-#10

Here are the last two indicators currently in my Nebula formula. These ones try to chart how well a book is doing in the current awards season, based on the assumption that if you are able to get nominated for one award, you’re more likely to win another. Note that it’s nominations that seem to correlate, not necessarily wins. Many of the other SFF awards are juried, so winning isn’t as good a measure of votes like the Hugo and Nebula use. Nominations raise your profile and get your book buzzed about, which helps pull in those votes. If something gets nominated 4-5 times, it becomes the “must-read” of the year, and that leads to wins.

Indicator #9: Receives a same-year Hugo nomination (64.29%)
Indicator #10: Nominated for at least one other major SFF award (71.43%)

I track things like the Philip K. Dick, the British Science Fiction Award, the Tiptree, the Arthur C. Clarke, the Campbell, and the Prometheus. Interestingly, the major fantasy awards—the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award—don’t come out until later in the year. This places someone like Addison at a disadvantage in these measures. We need an early in the year fantasy award!

In recent years, the Nebula has been feeding into the Hugo and vice-versa. Since the same awards are talked about so much in the same places, getting a Nebula nom raises your Hugo profile, which in turn feeds back and shapes the conversation about the Nebulas. If everyone on the internet is discussing Addison, Leckie, and Liu, someone like VanderMeer or Gannon can fall through the cracks. More exposure = more chances of winning.

So, how do things look this year?

Table 5: 2015 Awards Year Performance for 2015 Nebula Nominees
Table 5 Awards

The star by Leckie’s name means she won the BSFA this year. 2015 is very different than 2014: at this time last year, Ancillary Justice was clearly dominating, having already picked up nominations for the Clarke, Campbell, BSFA, Tiptree, and Dick. She’d go on to win the Clarke, BSFA, Hugo, and Nebula.

This year there isn’t a consensus book powering to all the awards. I thought VanderMeer would garner more attention, but he missed a Philip K. Dick Award nomination, and I figured the Clarke would have been sympathetic to him as well. Those are real storm clouds for Annihilation‘s Nebula chances. Maybe the book was too short or too incomplete for readers. Ancillary Sword isn’t repeating Leckie’s 2014 dominance, but it has already won the BSFA. Liu has some momentum beginning to build for him, while Gannon and McDevitt are languishing.

So those are the 10 factors I’m currently weighting in my Nebula prediction. I’ve been tossing around the idea of adding a few more (publication date, sequel, book length), but I might wait until next year to factor them in. I’d like to factor in something about popularity but I haven’t found any means of doing that yet.

What’s left? Well, we have to weight each of these Indicators, and once I do that, I can run the numbers to see who leads the model!

2015 Nebula Prediction: Indicators #6-#8

These indicators try to wrestle with the idea of critical and reader reception by charting how the Nebula nominees do on year-end lists. While these indicators are evolving as I put together my “Best of Lists”, these are some of our best measures of critical and reader response, which directly correlate to who wins the awards.

Right now, I’m using a variety of lists: the Locus Recommended Reading List (which has included the winner 13 out of the past 14 years, with The Quantum Rose being the lone exception), the Goodreads Best of the Year Vote (more populist, but they’ve at least listed the winner in the Top 20 4 years since they’ve been fully running, so that’s at least promising), and then a very lightly weighted version of my SFF Critics Meta-List. With a few years more data, I’ll split this into a “Hugo” list and a “Nebula” list, and we should have some neatly correlated data. Until then, one nice thing about my model is that it allows me to decrease the weights of Indicators I’m testing out. The Meta-List will probably only account for 2-3% of the total formula, with the Goodreads list at around 5% and the Locus at around 9%. I can’t calculate the weights until I go through all the indicators.

Indicator #6: Places on the Locus Recommended Reading List (92.86%)
Indicator #7: Places in the Goodreads Best of the Year Vote (100.00%)
Indicator #8: Places in the Top 10 on the Chaos Horizon SFF Critics Meta-List (100.00%)

Table 4: Critical/Reader Reception for 2015 Nebula Nominees
Table 4 Reception

There are separate Fantasy and SF Goodreads lists, hence the SF and F indicators. These are fairly bulky lists (the Locus is at least 40+, the Goodreads the same, etc.), so it isn’t too hard to place on one of them. If you don’t, that’s a real indicator that your book isn’t popular enough (or popular enough in the right places) to win a mainstream award. So these indicators more punish books that don’t make the lists than help those that do, if that makes any sense.

Results are as expected: Gannon and McDevitt suffer in these measures a great deal. Their books did not garner the same kind of broad critical/popular acclaim that other authors did. Cixin Liu missing the Goodreads vote might be surprising, but The Three-Body Problem came out very late in the year (November), and didn’t have time to pick up steam for a December vote. This is something to keep you eye on: did Liu come out too late in the year to pick up momentum for the Nebulas? If The Three-Body Problem ends up losing, I might add a “When did this come out?” Indicator for the 2016 Nebula model. Alternatively, these lists may have mismeasured Liu because of its late arrival, and then these lists would need to be weighted more lightly.

The good thing about the formula is that the more data we have, the more we can correct things. Either way Chaos wins!

2015 Nebula Prediction: Indicators #5

One of my simplest indicators:

Indicator #5: Novel is science fiction (71.43%)

The Nebula—just look at that name—still has a heavy bias towards SF books, even if this has been loosening in recent years. See my Genre Report for the full stats. In its 33 year history, only 7 fantasy novels have taken home the award. Chaos Horizon only uses data since 2001 in my predictions, but we’re still only looking at 4 of the last 14 winners being fantasy.

How do this year’s nominees stack up?

Table 3: Genre of 2015 Nebula Award Nominees

Table 3 Genre

Obviously, it’s a heavy SF year, with 5 of the 6 Nebula nominees being SF novels. There were plenty of Nebula-worthy fantasy books to choose, including something like City of Stairs, but the SFWA voters went traditional this year. I think Annihilation could be considered a “borderline” or “cross-genre” novel, although I see most people classifying it as Science Fiction.

Ironically, all of this actually helps Addison’s chances with the formula. Think about that logically: fantasy fans only have 1 book to vote for, while SF fans are split amongst 5 choices. The formula won’t give Addison a huge boost (the probability chart works out 28.57% for Addison, 14.29% for everyone else), but it’s the one part of the formula where she does better than everyone else.

Next time, we’ll get into the indicators for critical reception.

Building the Nebula Model, Part 2

This post continues my discussion on building my 2015 Nebula Best Novel prediction. See Part 1 for an introduction.

My model combines a number of factors (which I’m calling indicators) of past Nebula Best Novel success to come up with an overall percentage.

In 2014, I used 12 different indicators of Nebula success based on Nebula Data from 2001-2014. They were as follows:

Indicator #1: Nominee has previously been nominated for a Nebula. (84.6%)
Indicator #2: Nominee has previously been nominated for a Hugo. (76.9%)
Indicator #3: Nominee has previously won a Nebula award for best novel. (46.1%)
Indicator #4: Nominee was the year’s most honored nominee (Nebula Wins + Nominations + Hugo Wins + Nominations). (53.9%)

Indicator #5: Nominated novel was a science fiction novel. (69.2%).
Indicator #6: Nominated novel places in the Locus Awards. (92.3%)
Indicator #7: Nominated novel places in the Goodreads Choice Awards. (100%)

Indicator #8: Nominated novel appears on the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List. (92.3%)
Indicator #9: Nominated novel appears on the Tor.com or io9.com Year-End Critics’ list. (100%)

Indicator #10: Nominated novel is frequently reviewed and highly scored on Goodreads and Amazon. (unknown%)
Indicator #11: Nominated novel is also nominated for a Hugo in the same year. (73.3%)
Indicator #12: Nominated novel is nominated for at least one other major SF/F award that same year. (69.2%)

NOTE: These percentages have not yet been updated with the 2014 results. Leckie’s win in 2014 will lower the % value of Indicators #1-4 and raise the % value of Indicators #5-12. That’s on my to-do list over the next few weeks.

To come up with those percentages, I looked up the various measurables about Nebula nominees (past wins, placement on lists, etc.) using things like the Science Fiction Award Database. I then looked for patterns in that data (strong correlations to winning the Nebula), and then turned those patterns into the percentage statements you see above.

Using those statements, I calculate the probability for each of the 2015 nominees for each Indicator. So, for example, take Indicator #1: Nominee has Previously Been Nominated for a Nebula. Such novels win the Nebula a robust 84.6% percent of the time. Of this year’s 6 nominees, 4 have previously been nominated for a Nebula (Leckie, VanderMeer, McDevitt, Gannon). If I considered no other factors, each would wind up with a (84.6% / 4) = 21.2% chance to win the Nebula. Our two fist timers (Liu and Addison) have to split the paltry remnants ((100% – 84.6%)) / 2 = 7.7% each.

I like it when my indicators make some logical sense: a prior Nebula nominee is more familiar to the SFWA voting audience, and thus has an easier time grabbing votes. That bias is reflected in the roughly 13% advantage prior nominees gain in a category. That is a significant bump, but not an overwhelming one. It would be pretty unsatisfying to end there. Past Nebula noms are just one possible indicator: by doing the same kind of calculation for all 12 of my indicators, and then combining them together, we get a more robust picture. Leckie had never been nominated for a Nebula before last year, but she won anyway; she dominated many of the other indicators, and that’s what pushed her to the top of my prediction.

So, that’s the basic methodology: I find past patterns, translate those into percentage statements, and then use those percentages to come up with a probability distribution for the current year. I then combine those predictions together to come up with my final prediction.

I’ve got to make a couple tweaks to my Indicators for 2015. First off, I was never able to get Indicator #10 to work properly. Finding a correlation between Amazon/Goodreads ratings or scores and Nebula/Hugo wins has so far, at least for me, proved elusive. I also think I need to add an Indicator about “Not being a sequel”; that should help clarify this year, where the Leckie, McDevitt, and Gannon novels are all later books in a series. I’m tossing around adding a “Didn’t win a Best Novel Nebula the previous year” concept, but I’ll see how things work out. EDIT: This would be there to reflect how rare back to back Nebula wins are. That has only happened 3 times (Delany, Pohl, Card), and hasn’t happened in 30 years. This’ll factor in quite a bit this year: is Leckie looking at back to back wins, or will voters want to spread the Nebula around?

I’m always looking for more indicators, particularly if they can yield high % patterns. Let me know if you think anything should be added to the list. The more Indicators we have, the more balanced the final results, as any one indicator has less of an impact on the overall prediction.

You’ll notice that my Indicators break into four main parts: Past Awards History, Genre, Current Year Critical/Reader Reception, and Current Year Awards. Those four seem the big categories that determine (in this kind of measure) whether or not you’re a viable Nebula candidate.

In the next post, we’ll talk about how this data gets weighted and combined together.

Goodreads Popularity and the Hugo and Nebula Contenders, February 2015

It’s the last of the month, so time to update my popularity charts. Now that we have the Nebula slate, I’m debuting a new chart:

Chart 1: Nebula Nominee Popularity on Goodreads and Amazon, February 2015
Nebula Pop Feb 2015

Nicholas Whyte over on From the Heart of Europe has been tracking similar data for several years now, although he uses Library Thing instead of Amazon. He’s got data for a few different awards going several years back. Like me, he’s noted that popularity on these lists is not a great indicator of winning. A few weeks ago (here and here) I took a close look at how Goodreads numbers track with Amazon and Bookscan. The news was disappointing: the numbers aren’t closely correlated. Goodreads tracks one audience, Amazon another, and BookScan a third. The ratio between Amazon rankings and Goodreads rankings can be substantial. Goodreads tends to overtrack younger (under 40), more internet-buzzed about books. You can see how Amazon shows McDevitt, Lui, Addison, and Leckie to be about the same level of popularity, whereas Goodreads has Leckie 10x more popular than McDevitt. What do we trust?

The real question is not who we trust, but how closely the Goodreads audience correlates either to the SFWA or WorldCon voters. It’s hard to imagine a book from the bottom of the chart winning over more popular texts, but McDevitt has won in the past, and I don’t think he was that much more popular in 2007 than in 2015. I think the chart is most useful when we compare like to like: if Annihilation and Ancillary Sword are selling to somewhat similar audience, VanderMeer has gotten more books out than Leckie. Hence, VanderMeer probably has an advantage. I’m currently not using these numbers to predict the Nebulas or Hugos, although I’d like to find a way to do so.

Now, on to the big chart. Here’s popularity and reader change for Goodreads for 25+ Hugo contenders, with Gannon and McDevitt freshly added:

Goodreads Popularity February 2015

One fascinating thing: no one swapped positions this month. At the very least, Goodreads is showing some month to month consistency. Weir continues to lap the field. Mandel did great in February but that didn’t translate to a Nebula nomination: momentum on these charts doesn’t seem to be a good indicator of Nebula success. I’ll admit I thought Mandel’s success on Goodreads was going to translate to a Nebula nomination. Instead, it was Cixin Liu, much more modestly placed on the chart, who grabbed the nomination. Likewise, City of Stairs was doing better than The Goblin Emperor, but it was Addison who got the nod. At least in this regard, critical reception seemed to matter more than this kind of popularity.

Remember, Chaos Horizon is very speculative in this first year: what tracks the award? What doesn’t? I don’t know yet, and I’ve been following different types of data to see what pans out.

Interestingly, McDevitt and Gannon debut at the dead bottom of the chart. That’s one reason I didn’t have them in my Nebula predictions. That’s my fault and my mistake; I need to better diversify my tracking by also looking at Amazon ratings. I’ll be doing that for 2015, and the balance of Amazon and Goodreads stats might give us better insight into the field.

AS always, if you want to look at the full data (which goes back to October 2014), here it is: Hugo Metrics.

Nebula Award Nominations

The Nebula Award Nominations are out:


The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

A fascinating list with a couple surprises. Annihilation, Ancillary Sword, and The Goblin Emperor were all well-received and well-reviewed texts. Any of those three could easily win. Expect all three of those to grab Hugo nominations later this year. McDevitt has a huge Nebula following, and this marks his 12th Nebula nomination for Best Novel. He won back in 2007 and I don’t see him winning again. Gannon scores his second Nebula nomination in a row for this by Fire series, but it’s very hard to pick up a Nebula for the second novel in series; I don’t see him as having much of a chance.

The Cixin Liu is the big surprise. The Nebula has never shown much flexibility towards works in translation in the past, but this was definitely was one of the most original and interesting hard SF novels of the year. As more people begin to read The Three-Body Problem, I think it’s chances of winning will increase. I expect this to be the biggest “novel of discussion” in the next six or so months, and that’s going to put Liu in real contention for a Hugo nomination as well.

My initial thoughts are that this category will be a showdown between The Three-Body Problem and Annihilation. SFWA voters won’t want to give the award to Leckie twice in a row, and the Nebula still—but just barely—leans SF.

Chaos Horizon only got 3 out of 6 right in my prediction: not terrible for my first year, but not great either. My formula is in definite need of refinement! Coming Home was 9th on my list and the Liu 19th. I didn’t figure the Gannon would make it because it was a sequel. The McDevitt and the Gannon nominations prove the strength of the SF voting block in the Nebulas, and I’ll have to adjust that area up for future predictions. It’s interesting that the Nebula didn’t go with a literary SFF novel this year: I thought Mandel or Mitchell would have made it.

The rest of the ballot:


We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
“The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
“Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)


“Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
“The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
“We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
“The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Short Story

“The Breath of War,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
“When It Ends, He Catches Her,” Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction 9/26/14)
“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
“The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
“A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
“Jackalope Wives,” Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
“The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)

I’ll be back with some more analysis tomorrow!

5 Things to Watch for in the Nebula Nominations

The Nebula nominating period closed on February 15, 2015, and the SFWA will announce their full Nebula slate sometime soon (within a week or so?). Here are some of the trends I’m keeping a close eye on:

1. How repetitive will the slate be? Both the Hugos and the Nebulas tend to repeat the same authors over and over again. See my extensive Report on this issue. While Leckie and VanderMeer have previously grabbed Best Novel nominations, and are likely to do so again, 2015 might yield an interesting crop of Nebula rookies. Of the 5 most popular recent Nebula Best Novel authors (McDevitt, Bujold, Hopkinson, Jemisin, and Mieville), only McDevitt has a novel out this year. Add in that heavy-hitters like Willis and Gaiman didn’t publish novels in 2015, and it seems like the field is more open than usual.

2. How literary will the slate be? 2014 was a strong year for literary SFF, with major novels from authors like Emily St. John Mandel, David Mitchell, Chang-rae Lee, and many others. The Nebula has been friendly to such texts in the past. How many will make this year’s slate? 1? 2? If 3 literary novels make the slate, will the internet explode?

3. Will the Nebulas nominate self-published and indie-published works? Last year, Nagata made the Nebula slate with a self-published novel. Will this trend continue? More and more authors are bypassing traditional publishing and taking their novels directly to the reading audience. The SFWA has recently changed their rules to allow self-published authors into the SFWA. Are we going to see a sea-change of more self-published novels and stories make future Nebula slates? Does it start this year?

4. What about the paywall issue? This is a problem fast reaching a critical point for the Hugos and the Nebulas. Do short stories, novelettes, and novellas that are locked behind paywalls—either in print journals or in online journals/ebooks that require a subscription fee—still stand a chance? Or does the open access provided by sites like Clarkesworld, Tor.com, or Strange Horizons get those stories in front of a larger audience, thus making them more likely award nominees?

5. Will the Nebulas go international? The Nebulas and the Hugos are, in theory, international awards. For the Nebulas, any book published in the USA is eligible, no matter the country of origin or original language. In practice, both awards go to either American or British writers, with a few Canadians thrown in here and there for good measure. Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem brought Chinese SF to an American audience this year, and we’re seeing an increasing number of novels and short stories published in translation. Will this have any impact? I doubt it, but we’ll see.

I’m sure plenty of other issues—and controversies—will float to the surface over the next month. Demographics is a likely point of major discussion, as are the genre questions that always pop up this time of year. What other issues are you thinking about in regard to the forthcoming Nebula slate?

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