Tag Archive | 2015 Nebula Prediction

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.

Annihilation:
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 #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.

2015 Nebula Prediction: Indicators #1-#4

Let’s leave the Hugo Award behind for now—the controversy swirling around that award has distracted Chaos Horizon, so it’s time to get back on track doing what this site was designed to do: generating numerical predictions for the Nebula and Hugo Award based on data mining principles.

Over the next three to four days, I’ll be putting put the various “Indicators” of the Nebula Award, and then we weight and combine those to get our final prediction. For a look at the methodology, check out this post and this post. If you’re really interested, there’s an even more-in-depth take in my “Building the Nebula Model” posts. Bring caffeine!

With the basics of the model built, though, all that’s left is updating the stats and plugging in this year’s data. Here’s Indicators #1-#4 (out of 11). These deal with past awards history:

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: Author is the most honored nominee (50.00%)

The best way to understand each of those is as an opinion/prediction of the Nebula based on data from 2001-2014. So, 78.6% of the time, someone who has previously been nominated for the Nebula wins the Nebula Best Novel award, and so on. The only tricky one here is the “Author is the most honored nominee”: I add up the total number of Hugo Noms + Wins + Nebula Noms + Wins to get a rough indicator of “total fame in the field.” 50% of the time, the Nebula voters just give the Nebula Best Novel award to the most famous nominee.

All of these indicators flow from the logical idea that the Nebula is a “repetitive” award: they tend to give the Best Novel award to the same people over and over again. Take a look at my Repeat Nominees study for justification behind that. This repetition is also a kind of a “common sense” conclusion: to win a Nebula you have to be known by Nebula voters. What’s the best way to be known to them? To have already been part of the Nebulas.

Don’t think this excludes rookie authors though—Leckie did great last year even in my formula, and that’s why these are only Indicators #1-#4. The other indicators tackle things like critical reception and same-year award nominations. Still, they give us a good start. Let’s check this year’s data:

Tables 1 and 2: Past Awards History for 2015 Nebula Nominees

Table 1 Past Hugo Nebula Data Info
Table 2 Past Hugo Nebula Data

Legend:
The chart is for award nominations prior to this year’s award season, so no 2015 awards are added in
Nebula Wins = Prior Nebula Wins (any category)
Nebula Noms = Proir Nebula Nominations (any category)
Hugo Wins = Prior Hugo Nominations (any category)
Hugo Noms = Prior Hugo Wins (any category)
Total = sum of N. Wins, N. Noms, H. Wins, and H. Noms
Total rank = Ranking of authors based on their Total number of Wins + Nominations
Best Novel = Has author previously won the Nebula award for Best Novel?
Gray shading of boxes added solely for readability
All data mined from http://www.sfadb.com

Jack McDevitt breaks out of the pack here: his prior 17 Nebula nominations (!) make him the most familiar to the Nebula voting audience. He only has 1 win for those 17 nominations, though, so I don’t think he’s in line for a second. McDevitt is going to suffer in indicators #6-10, as his books tend to not get much critical acclaim. McDevitt currently has a 10% win rate for the Nebula Best Novel award. If he keeps getting noms, I’m going to have to add a “McDevitt” exception to keep the formula working.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Hugo nominations are all in Best Related Work, not for fiction, although his other Nebula nomination is for Finch. He’s well-known in the field, although Annihilation hasn’t picked up many award nominations for 2015.

Leckie, who was a rookie last year, now does very well across the board: her prior Nebula noms, Best Novel Nebula win, and Hugo nom will all give her a boost in the formula. The real wild-card in Indicators #1-#4 is The Three-Body Problem. Cixin Liu’s novel was translated by Ken Liu, who is very well known to the Nebula and Hugo audience: he has 3 Hugo nominations (2 wins), and 6 Nebula nominations (1 win), to make him one of the most nominated figures in recent years. If SFWA voters think of The Three-Body Problem as being co-authored by Ken Liu, they’re more likely to pick it up, and that will really boost the novel’s chances. I haven’t decided the best way to treat The Three-Body Problem for my formula. What do you think? Should I include Ken Liu’s nominations as part of the profile for The Three-Body Problem?

Tomorrow, we’ll start looking at Indicators tracking genre and critical reception.

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