MidAmeriCon II Has finally opened up for 2016 Hugo nominations. To nominate, you need to either be a member of MidAmericon II or to have been a member of last year’s WorldCon or next years WorldCon. Deadline to join and vote in this year’s Hugos is January 31st. Here’s some specifics from their website:
•Hugo Pins and Membership Numbers will be emailed out, in batches, to the members of Sasquan, MidAmeriCon II and Worldcon 75 (Helsinki) starting on January 27, 2016 and going through February 5, 2016.
•People who register for MidAmeriCon II or Worldcon 75 (Helsinki) in January, 2016 will be in the last batch of pins to go out, but they will get theirs within a week of the nominations opening.
•The reason we cannot just email everyone at the same time is because of the last group of eligible voters as well as the need to coordinate 3 different Worldcon committees work together to ensure that everyone eligible to nominate gets their Hugo Pin and Membership Number in a timely manner.
After a relatively calm January, this should pick up the Hugo conversation significantly. Happy nominating!
Rocket Stack Rank looks like a cool new Hugo/Nebula stat blog that’s running some stats and data for Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories! Since Chaos Horizon has never had time to delve into such issues, it’s cool to see someone else tackling the same kind of work I do.
More data is always good. They’ve got a nice post about the correlation between the Locus Recommended Reading list and the eventual Hugo/Nebula nominees. I use similar data in my Hugo and Nebula predictions, although for novels. It’ll be interesting to see if Rocket Stack Rank will develop their own predictions (hint, hint) . . .
Now we’re in the thick of it—Aurora could be a heavy-hitter on the 2016 awards circuit. Robinson has a staggering number of past Hugo (14!) and Nebula (12!) nominations, and he’s won the Hugo Best Novel twice (Green Mars, Blue Mars) and the Nebula Best Novel another two times (Red Mars, 2312). That’s as a good a Hugo/Nebula profile as any living author with the exception of Connie Willis, who has an insane 24 Hugo noms/11 Hugo wins and 15 Nebula noms/7 Nebula wins. The conclusion: don’t bet against Willis.
Back to Robinson. Aurora is also the big prototypical SF novel that voters have gravitated towards in the past: a multi-generational ship launches towards a distant star, trying to colonize a new planet in the wake of Earth’s overpopulation. When they arrive, they face unforeseen circumstances . . .
It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the novel, but Robinson takes us on a profound journey through ideas of space colonization, individual and group decision making, the value of the individual life, ship design, A.I., and all the kind of BIG IDEAS you’d expect in a novel like this. Robinson gives these familiar ideas a new and effective spin, and I think almost anyone interested in classic SF is going to find something of value in Aurora. It’s a surprising and provocative novel, forcing us to think about space colonization in new ways.
It’s easy to read Aurora as Robinson looking back on his own 1990s defining Mars series, which had an optimistic spin on grand-scale terraforming. Aurora is far more measured with those ideas, and this book makes a great companion piece to his earlier work or even to a novel like Seveneves, which has surprisingly similar themes. To be fair, Robinson and Stephenson go in almost completely opposite directions in these two books, but I think the cross-talk between the novels enhances both.
What does this mean for the awards in 2016? The last time KSR published a true SF novel (2312), he grabbed a Hugo nom and won the Nebula in 2013. How much has changed since then? In the Nebula, not a lot—the same core of SFWA voters are still voting, so I expect this to show up on the Nebula ballot. Given that he just won three years ago, I don’t think he’ll win again, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The Hugo is a murkier award in 2016, given the turbulence surrounding it. 2312 took third place in 2013, and was also third in the nominations. Given the campaigns that are sure to take place in 2016, 3rd place is probably vulnerable to being pushed out. Add in that 2016 is a strong Hugo year (former Best Novel winners Robinson, Stephenson, Leckie, Walton, Bacigalupi, Scalzi, and Liu are all fighting for 5 spots, and that’s not even factoring in Puppy campaigns or buzzy authors like Novik). As a result, I think Robinson will miss the ballot, but a strong year-end push could definitely grab Robinson a spot.
As for metrics, as of mid-October 2015, Aurora has 2,535 Goodreads ratings with a 3.79 score and 264 Amazon ratings with a score of 3.7. Those aren’t great but they aren’t terrible. It’s a rare thing to see the Goodreads score higher than Amazon, but I couldn’t tell you what that means. I think around 1500 Goodreads / 100 Amazon is the cut off to be competitive, so KSR is well above that. Score doesn’t seem to matter for either the Hugos or Nebulas; VanderMeer won a Nebula last year with a 3.62 Goodreads score.
I couldn’t find a blog for KSR; he doesn’t seem to do much social media. Instead, here’s a list of his 10 favorite SF novels.
Words like “top of his game” show up in these reviews; Adam Roberts calls it “the best generation starship novel I have ever read” in The Guardian. High praise from the mainstream for this book, and a good range of coverage to boot.
That’s as positive a group of reviews as you’re likely to see from the SFF world. All identified the book as “vintage” KSR, speaking very highly of the ideas and execution of the novel. It was interesting to see how he was positioned as a “literary” SF author. I expect these glowing reviews to translate to a strong position on year-end lists, which can definitely drive awards.
It’s always interesting to see what happens when actual readers get their hands on the book. Aurora is full of some very unusual philosophical and political twists, and a couple reviewers took issue with these politics, and I expect—once people finally get deeper into the ideas of Aurora—-that it will prove a little divisive. That won’t matter in terms of nominations, which are driven by passionate fans. Plenty of my fellow WordPress bloggers were overwhelmingly positive.
My Take: I greatly enjoyed Aurora even if I found myself disagreeing with much of it. Some of the philosophical stances KSR takes (or seems to take) are unexpected, and by the time we reach the final sequence of the novel, an ecological sublime with a character swimming in the ocean, he’s made a powerful argument about the absolute value of the self. Don’t know if I buy it, but the fun of this novel is in thinking about the ideas. In that way, Aurora does much the same work as Seveneves, using a SF canvas to probe complex ideas of the relationship between identity and scientific knowledge. Reading Stephenson’s novel and then reading Robinson’s was the best new SFF reading experience I’ve had so far this year, even if I liked Stephenson more. 9.0.
So, what’s your take? Will we see Aurora on the ballots next year?
Note: This is part of a series of Review Round-Ups investigating potential Hugo/Nebula Best Novel contenders for 2016. I use the information I gather to help my Hugo and Nebula predictions. See my Review Round-Up Strategy for 2015 post for more info.
What if Athena and Apollo tried to set up Plato’s Republic? And what if they travelled through time and body-snatched Plato’s greatest supporters to run the city as masters? Throw in 10,000 young kids that need to be raised the perfect way . . .
With that bold speculation, Jo Walton’s The Just City is off to the races. Walton shows us as a wide assortment of characters, both historical (i.e. Cicero, Socrates, etc.) and imagined, who try to put Plato’s grand dream into reality. Add in some robots—an ideal city needs servants, after all—and you’ve got a broad canvas for Walton to write about justice, societies, childhood, and what a perfect city might be. For anyone who has read The Republic, or been forced to read excerpts in class, this is a fun variation on Plato’s timeless vision.
As you might expect, everything begins to go wrong. In fact, the book can get quite violent at times, particularly around the issues of sexual assault. Walton is exploring the ways even the most ideal city crumbles under the weight of human imperfection. The Just City ends abruptly, but Walton has already published the sequel The Philosopher Kings in 2015, and there’s a concluding volume to the trilogy in the offing.
My initial thoughts about The Just City were that it was “too Greek” for the Hugos or the Nebulas, but I’ve tempered that position. This is more of a thought experiment than a traditional science fiction or fantasy novel, but audiences seem to be embracing Walton’s writing. Since sweeping the 2012 Hugo and Nebulas with her extraordinarily well-liked Among Others, Walton’s profile as an author has greatly increased. If not for the Puppy campaigns, she likely would have won a second Hugo in 2015 for her book of criticism What Makes This Book So Great. Her last novel My Real Children did well on the 2015 awards circuit, winning the Tiptree and scoring a World Fantasy nomination. If you exclude the Puppy nominations from 2015, My Real Children placed 8th in the 2015 Hugos, and I think The Just City is the more appealing of those two books.
I still don’t think it’s likely Walton will grab a Nebula or Hugo nomination in 2016, but I wouldn’t be if surprised she did. The Nebula is more open this year, since the Hugos are going to be an absolute mess in 2016 with huge turnout, voting campaigns, and other assorted kerfuffles. Walton’s book is posting middle-of-the-road numbers on Goodreads and Amazon. As of mid-October, she had around 2000 Goodreads ratings with a score of 3.78 and 51 Amazon ratings with a score of 4.00. What hurts The Just City is that, if you haven’t read Plato, it’s not very accessible. I don’t want to underestimate the SFF audience, though. I think a lot of those readers do know their Plato, and, if you do, this is an easy novel to like.
Ultimately, I have this down in the 8-12 range for the Hugos and Nebulas: a fighting chance, but by no means a sure thing. On to other opinions about the book:
The mainstream venues were a little tempered. Publisher’s Weekly noted the sexual violence of the novel, and Kirkus was somewhat cutting with their claim “This is novel as study guide: Mary Renault meets undergraduate Philosophy 101.” The bigger mainstream venues (NY Times, etc.) ignored the book, as you’d expect for a pretty niche SFF title.
That’s broad coverage, and solid but not glowing reviews for The Just City. A lot of the reviewers identified it as idea-driven rather than character or plot-driven; words like “interesting” or “eclectic” were more often applied than “must-read.” Still, it was widely discussed, and that helps drive readers—and possible fans—to the book.
Violin in a Void (8 out of 10)
Far Beyond Reality
Bibliotropic (5 out of 5)
Relentless Reading (5 out of 5)
Mermaid Vision Books
A wide range of reactions and opinions. I think my fellow WordPress bloggers found the book interesting to argue with—and against—rather than a book they loved, although some certainly thought highly of it. Others disliked the book. I’m not surprised to see reviews polarized: you either willingly embraced the “though experiment” idea of the book or you didn’t.
My Take: I liked The Just City a great deal. I’m the core audience for this novel: I took three years of Greek in college as well as multiple philosophy courses. I thought Walton did an excellent job of throwing Plato’s ideas against the wall. It was good fun to see the historical and mythological figures interact. If you like the idea of seeing Socrates talk to Apollo and then a robot, this is the book for you. The Just City gives you a great space to think about Plato in a new light, and it’s the kind of novel that makes you want to pull The Republic off your shelf again. Now, we do have to give Plato at least some of the credit, and that’s what keeps The Just City from being truly great: it’s a novel about Plato rather than a novel standing entirely on it’s own merits. 8.5 out of 10.
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:
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!
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.
With Seveneves, Neal Stephenson has lived his dream of creating the three most awkwardly titled novels in SF history. Has there ever been a run of tongue-twisters as profound as Anathem, Reamde, and Seveneves?
Snark aside, Seveneves is one of the biggest SF novels of the year in every way: length, ambition, execution, and sales. Seveneves is going to make plenty of noise when the 2016 awards season rolls around. Stephenson has been a major SF writer for more than 20 years (Snow Crash hit in 1992; that makes me feel old), and Seveneves continues his investigations into the nature of knowledge, the future of humanity, and the ways that technological and social systems interact.
Seveneves begins with a bang: the moon is blown up on the first page. This sets off a chain of occurrences disastrous to humanity, and we’re launched into an 800+ plus journey about the survival of the species. A large cast of characters has to take to space, facing off with problems both practical (dwindling supplies), interstellar (cosmic radiation), and self-inflicted (divisive internal politics). Stephenson’s novel mixes a lot of discussion about orbital mechanics with the mechanics of group conflict. While I don’t want to give away all the twists, Stephenson launches us far into the future so that we can see the end-results of the choices made by human groups. We also eventually learn what Seveneves means and how to pronounce it.
This is the kind big, meaty, philosophical SF that Stephenson has perfected since Cryptonomicon. While you aren’t going to fall in love with Stephenson’s characters (we have an stand-in for Neil deGrasse Tyson, for instance) and you may object to the meandering plot, no one delves into the connections between science and social systems more deeply than Stephenson. You’ll either love the depth here or be turned relatively quickly. While I’ll have some later posts that get more deeply into the “meaning” of the novel—this books makes a great companion piece to Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, by the way—let’s focus now on his award chances.
For all of Stephenson’s fame, he hasn’t done particularly well with the Nebulas and Hugos. Stephenson has 3 Hugo nominations and 1 Best Hugo win, all in the Best Novel category: The Diamond Age won in 1996, and Cryptonomicon and Anathem scored nominations in 2000 and 2009. I think Seveneves is of similar length, ambition, and SF-ness to Cryptonomicon and Anathem, so I expect another Hugo nomination. The Nebula awards have largely ignored Stephenson: only 1 nomination back in 1996 for Snow Crash. That’s an impressive 20 year record ignoring Stephenson; I don’t think it will be any different this year.
A lot depends on how people talk about Stephenson. I think a real argument could be made that it’s Stephenson’s time to win another Hugo, as a sort of “way to go” for the past decade of writing. Alternatively, Seveneves could be written off as not as good as Cryptonomicon or Anathem, and thus not as worthy to win. Keep an eye on how people start blogging and writing about Seveneves.
To be fair to the Hugos and Nebulas, Stephenson is pretty much a novel only writer, which gives him less chances for awards nominations than an author publishing both novels and short stories. His novels are also formidably long, which I think helps and hurts his chances. If you commit to reading Seveneves, you’ll probably remember it, but the bar of entry is pretty high.
Or is it? When we turn to sales metrics, Seveneves does extraordinarily well for a SF novel. Seveneves reached the #5 spot on Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list, the second best as SF novel has done this year (Armada hit #3), and PW reported 30,000+ sales before it dropped off their list. On Goodreads as of 8/6/15, Seveneves has 9,280 ratings and a 4.03 score. As a contrast, Ancillary Sword only has 8,398 ratings and that came out 8 months earlier and already scored Hugo and Nebula noms. Amazon rings in at 1,066 ratings and a 4.0. There won’t be many SF novels this year that put up better numbers than Stephenson.
So what does this all mean? I think Seveneves is primed to follow Anathem to a Hugo nomination in 2016, and I think the Nebulas will ignore Stephenson just like they have for the past 20 years. This is a big, substantial novel that will attract the core SF audience, and Stephenson’s fame and positive reviews will break this novel past that core audience to other SF fans. The length is going to turn some readers off, and the more experimental (and at times pessimistic) nature of the book will also alienate some. Still, Stephenson is going to get enough readers, and enough positive readers, to be a strong player in 2015.
On to reviews:
Published May 19, 2015.
Pretty much everyone in the mainstream reviewed Seveneves. This is extraordinary coverage for a SF novel, and the reviews are pretty uniformly positive as well. I could have gone on and added another dozen mainstream reviews, but the point is to compare this books using the same 7 venues. For an 800 page SF tome to get an A- from a venue like Entertainment Weekly says all you need to know about the mainstream embrace of this book. Basically, the mainstream is saying, “If you read one SF book this year, it should be Seveneves.”
Barnes and Nobel SF Blog
Fantasy Book Critic
Some of the SFF reviews have been slower to get out. Locus is usually here, but they haven’t put an online review up yet. It was definitely reviewed in the print magazine, but who reads print anymore? Reviews here are positive but actually less enthusiastic than the mainstream. Interesting.
Bill’s Book Reviews (5 out of 5)
Relentless Reading (2.5 out of 5)
Rhapsody in Books (4 out of 5)
More Notes from Aboveground
Sharp and Pointed
Yet There Are Statues (3 out of 5)
The Dilettante’s Dilemma
Now we really get into it. I could have included more reviews—the book is very broadly discussed on WordPress—but this slice gives you a good representative sample. Seveneves was very divisive: some loved it, some hated it. You expect that with a book that’s so long and takes so many chances. For those readers who disliked it, it was often a question of engagement. Seveneves is a very dry read, and, in some ways, very philosophical/political. I think as the online discussion evolves, more people will engage with those politics, and anything political has a real chance to alienate some readers. Stephenson’s view of humanity is highly critical, and the books conclusions about scientific versus social knowledge cut against some 21st century political trends. As more readers have read the book and we don’t have to worry about spoilers, I expect Stephenson’s highly unusual take on knowledge, race, genetics, etc., to become even more divisive.
My take: For me, Seveneves has been the best SFF novel I’ve read in 2015 (although Cixin Liu’s Dark Forest is coming out soon). While it can be slow-moving and awkward at times, this novel had such a depth of philosophical and scientific discussion that it overwhelmed any character/plot shortcomings. I appreciate the ambition and scope of Seveneves—as well as a surprisingly detailed amount of hard science about orbital mechanics—and that ambition and scope carried me easily through the 800+ page length. I don’t necessarily agree with Stephenson’s observation about humanity, but they were well enough made to be highly interesting. I find more value in a book I can argue and debate with than one that I simply agree with, and Seveneves gave me plenty to think about. Highly recommended, 9 out of 10.
So, what do you think? Is Seveneves a Hugo frontrunner for 2016?
Note: This is part of a series of Review Round-Ups investigating potential Hugo/Nebula Best Novel contenders for 2016. I use the information I gather to help my Hugo and Nebula predictions. See my Review Round-Up Strategy for 2015 post for more info.
Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory was one of the first SFF novels of 2015 to gain traction with critics and fans. A steampunk Western set in a fictionalized 19th century Seattle, the book tells the story of a group of prostitutes that have to fight back against a power-mad mind-ray wielding villain. Featuring a large cast of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities, our rag-tag group of heroes pulls together to lead Seattle to a brighter, more democratic future.
Karen Memory is an interesting combination of genres. The SF/alternative history elements are fairly light; there is some advanced technology, but the driving force behind the book is Karen’s narrative voice. Told in the first person, this is a vivid account of her struggle against the evil Peter Bantle and her development as a person. She falls in love with another woman, learns that she has strength she did not expect, and generally matures into a more powerful person. You’re going to like or dislike Karen Memory largely based on how you feel about Karen and her narrative voice.
Bear has never been nominated for a Nebula before. She is a four-time winner of the Hugo award (as well as the winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer). She has two wins for short fiction (“Shoggoths in Bloom” in 2009 and “Tideline” in 2008), and two more shared wins for SF Squeecast podcast (2013 and 2012). Interestingly, Bear has won every time she’s been nominated—that has to be the best win percentage of all time (4 for 4). What you don’t see in that history are any nominations for Best Novel, and Bear has written a ton of them. In 2012, Bear placed 15th in the nominations for Range of Ghosts 56 votes. To get into the mix, she’ll have to at least triple that for 2016 (and, given the rise in Hugo voters, probably even more than that). Does Bear have enough fans? Will Karen Memory be her leap into this category?
On the sales/metrics front, Karen Memory shows some weakness. As of 7/30/15, she has 57 Amazon rankings and 1,117 Goodreads ratings, with scores of 4.4 on Amazon and 3.82 on Goodreads. For a book published in early February, those are on the low side. In contrast, Uprooted by Naomi Novik has 395 Amazon ratings and 9,5000 Goodreads ratings. Karen Memory never made the Publisher’s Weekly Top 25 list. Karen Memory still has plenty of time to sell, but these numbers indicate that the book hasn’t broken out of the SFF core, and I also worry about that relatively low 3.82 Goodreads rating (Uprooted is 4.24 and Sevenes 4.03 for contrast).
What does all of this mean? I think Karen Memory has an outside shot but isn’t a frontrunner for the Hugo. Since Bear has never received a Nebula nomination, I don’t think Karen Memory has much of a chance there. Steampunk is not a sub-genre that has ever done well in the Hugos or Nebulas; looking back over the lists, only Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson strike me as a steampunk works with Hugo Best Novel noms. Throw in the Western motif, and you have a chance to turn off fans who don’t like Westerns or steampunk books.
2015 is also shaping up to be a very competitive Hugo and Nebula year. Many recent winners and nominees are publishing new novels this year: Leckie, Scalzi, Walton, Bacigalupi, and Robinson for recent winners, and then multiple nominees like Stephenson, Jemisin, and Stross. We also have breakout books like Uprooted, and I’m not yet factoring in things like possible Hugo campaigns for what is sure to be the most hotly contested Hugos ever. To receive a nomination in 2015 is going to take huge support; I don’t know if Bear has that. While popular with a segment of progressive SFF fans, does she have enough reach to break out of that bubble? Time will tell.
On to some reviews and info about the book:
This was fairly lightly reviewed in the mainstream. Reviews were generally positive, but no stars for either Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus; I think that indicates that both outlets saw the audience as limited for this book.
Broadly and positively reviewed by the more mainstream SFF blogs, Karen Memory was praised for its vibrant world and Karen’s unique voice. These blogs liked what the novel did with the steampunk genre, and generally regarded it as an excellent “rollicking” book. A couple called it lighter than some of the more serious SFF books of the year, and that might damage Karen Memory‘s award chances.
Now for the most important people: my fellow WordPress reviewers! That’s a fair number of reviews, but for a book that came out in February (I’m writing this in July), that’s not an overwhelming number. People were largely positive but didn’t necessarily give the book 10 out of 10 or 5 out of 5. That jibes with my sense of Karen Memory: people like it, but they don’t absolutely love it. To score a Hugo or Nebula nomination, you need some truly driven fans.
My sense is that Karen Memory did well with a certain core of the SFF fanbase but that it didn’t break out to the larger circles of SFF readers. That’s due in part to the steampunk/Western nature of the work. Lots of writers are writing those: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, the Alloy of Law and sequels by Brandon Sanderson, Boneshaker and sequels by Cherie Priest. I’ve read most of those, and they’re interesting but they don’t seem essential.
My Take: A new debut in the Review Round-Ups is my microreview of the book. I found Karen Memory perfectly readable but also fairly forgettable. Fun while it lasted, but the book had a rushed feel to it: too many characters who were only on stage for one or two scenes. Aside from Karen herself, no one received much development. I found both the villain and the love interest pretty one-dimensional. I was also expecting a book about prostitutes to be funnier and edgier, and the book was ultimately a pretty safe “heroes win” romp. That might be my fault; I was expecting Cannery Row, and I got something a lot tamer. I also wanted more about the world, including a deeper investigation of how steampunk technology might change the United States. Middle-of-the-pack for me, 6 out of 10.
So, what are Karen Memory‘s chances in 2016? Will people forget this novel when the nomination period finally rolls around, or will positive word-of-mouth drive it to new set of fans? I’ll likely have Karen Memory in the mid-teens for my Hugo and Nebula predictions.
Tomorrow, I’m going to be starting my Review Round-Ups for 2015, closer looks at the major contenders for the 2016 Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards. I use these Round-Ups to springboard my predictions, and they’re a key aspect of the work I do here at Chaos Horizon.
I start with my 2016 Hugo/Nebula Watchlist, composed of new books by past awards winners and other 2015 novels that are getting significant pre-release buzz. I try to read the major contenders, and then I begin doing research on the books. Here’s what I’m currently looking at when I make predictions:
1. Genre: Certain types of novels are favored by the Hugos and Nebulas: a Hard SF novel has a better chance than an Urban Fantasy, for instance. Young Adult novels rarely make the cut.
2. Place in series: Unless previous novels in the series have been nominated, later volumes rarely receive awards nominations.
3. Previous awards history: This is a big one: the Hugos and the Nebulas love nominating the same people over and over again. Hello, Jack McDevitt.
4. Measurable sales data: I try to look at Goodreads, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly to get a sense of how a novel is doing. This is more useful for comparative cases than in terms of absolutes. So if two novels in a similar subgenres, like let’s say The Goblin Emperor and City of Stairs (broadly speaking, both are experimental fantasy novels), the one with more rankings/more sales gets the nod in my prediction. Amazon, Goodreads, and PW all track different audiences, and probably only make sense when utilized together.
5. Critical buzz: I’m currently looking at two different types of critics for 2015: mainstream venues such as the Publisher’s Weekly, NY Times, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, the Guardian, etc., venues that have huge national exposure and can help boost a novel’s raw readership. However, these mainstream venues don’t necessarily reflect the tastes of Hugo/Nebula voters, so I’m also looking at the SFF-specific websites and blogs: Locus, the B+N SF Blog, Tor, io9, Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, etc., to take a look at fandom’s reception of the book. I’m currently having trouble figuring out exactly which sites I should look at, so any suggestions of prominent review venues that you think reflect the Hugos/Nebulas would be appreciated.
6. Reader buzz: I look at the rankings from Amazon and Goodreads, and then I check my fellow WordPress bloggers to see how actual readers are thinking about these books. Some books can get great press in the critical realm and fall flat with the general readership, and vice-versa as well.
That’s a fair amount of data to look at. I weigh all of these factors together to come up with my predictions for the shortlists. I try to keep my personal opinions in the background. While it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pretend I don’t have my own opinions, I’m not particularly well correlated to Hugo/Nebula tastes. My three favorite novels from last year were The Three-Body Problem, The Bone Clocks, and Broken Monsters, for instance, which makes me 1 out of 3 with the awards. Better than a coin-flip, but not much.
So we’ll be beginning shortly. Here are some of the books I’ve already read this year and am planning on doing Review Round-Ups of shortly:
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
Touch, Clair North
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
The Book of Phoenix and Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson
Armada, Ernest Cline
Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey
We also have major possible nominees like The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (as sure fire a nominee as any this year), Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt, and then authors with more outside chances like Ken Liu, Kate Elliot, Zen Cho, Brandon Sanderson, Wesley Chu, Gene Wolfe, and Victor Milan. As these books begin to pick up buzz and the 2015 narrative takes shape towards the end of the year, they might join the list above.
Any other books you think have good chances for the 2016 awards? The sooner we know, the sooner we can start reading.
Hard to believe that half of 2015 has already slipped by. The Hugo controversy has really sucked some attention away from 2015 novels, and a lot of SFF readers are really only beginning to get into their 2015 reading. Still, we’ve seen several novels published are likely to have major impact come the 2016 awards season. Urpooted by Naomi Novik looks to be this year’s The Goblin Emperor. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson has made some real noise, and Kim Stanley Robinson, a perennial Hugo and Nebula favorite, just published Aurora.
On the best-seller front, the “biggest” SF novel of the year comes out next week (July 14th): Ernest Cline’s Armada. Cline’s last book, Ready Player One (2011), was a huge success. Three years later, it’s still hovering near the top of the Publisher’s Weekly (PW) SF charts. This week, it was #4, behind The Martian, Jurassic Park, and Station Eleven. Seveneves clicks in at #5, meaning Ready Player One is still selling better than every 2015 SF novel.
Cline gets quite a bit of online criticism; his book is seen as the epitome of “mainstream” or “popcorn” SF, and many outlets are eager to trash Cline’s popularity. For instance, Slate killed Armada in their recent review—but reviews aren’t going to affect sales. When you’re as popular as Cline, you’re almost like E.L. James, insulated from negative press.
Ready Player One was largely ignored by the SFF awards circuit. It picked up a Campbell nomination (interesting to note that the Campbell was the only nomination The Martian received). Selling too many copies almost seems to hurt your awards chances, and this gives us a good space to take a closer look at some more Publisher’s Weekly numbers.
At Chaos Horizon, I had high hopes that sales numbers would correlate to awards chances. So far, I haven’t been able to find a sensible connection. See my previous posts on Publisher’s Weekly and Bookscan for some info.
Thanks to an online friend, we’ve dug even deeper into the Publisher’s Weekly archive to see if any correlation exists. Remember, Publisher’s Weekly publishes weekly (duh!) bestseller lists. For Hardcover fiction, they include weekly and cumulative sales numbers. While books come and go on the list fairly quickly, this allows us a snapshot of the high-water-mark of a book’s popularity. It’s not perfect data, but it’s the data we have.
My initial hypothesis was that “more sales = more votes”; the more people that have read a book, the better it will do in a voted award. By combing through the data, here’s what we’ve got in terms of Hugo nominated books making the PW Bestseller list at some time during the year (we only have access to data for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 sales):
2013 Hugo Nominees/Bookscan Bestsellers – 2312, Redshirts, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
2014 Hugo Nominees/Bookscan Bestsellers – The Ocean at the End of the Lane (declined), The Wheel of Time
2015 Hugo Nominees/Bookscan Bestsellers – Skin Game
Now, that doesn’t mean other works didn’t sell well: they just sold more slowly, to the point that they never poked their head into “Bestseller” territory. It’s also interesting to note that in the past 2 years, two of those bestsellers made the Hugos only because of explicit campaigns: The Wheel of Time and Skin Game.
As such, making the PW weekly Bestseller list doesn’t seem to correlate to Hugo chances. That’s an odd conclusion to make, and something we’ll keep our eye on. I think this shows that the mainstream audience and the Hugo voting audience are becoming increasingly distinct; one does not follow the other.
Let’s look at who has popped up onto the PW Bestseller week so far for 2015. I’ve stuck mostly to novels, although I threw Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman onto the list. I’m also only including 2015 published novels. I’m going to give you the following info: publishing date, the last date they showed up on the PW list, and the cumulative books sold for 2015. So, like this:
Title, Author, publishing date, date on PW list, cumulative books sold in 2015, highest rank on PW list
Finder’s Keepers, Stephen King, June 2015, 7-13-15, 174,307, #1
Sevenves, Neal Stephenson, May 2015, 6-29-15, 32,041, #5
The Darkling Child, Terry Brooks, June 2015, 6-22-15, 3,804, #17
The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen, June 2015, 6-22-15, 3,051, #23
Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey, June 2015, 6-15-15, 2,394, #24
The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi, May 2015, 6-15-15, 5,304, #19
A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson, May 2015, 6-08-15, 20,020, #9
The Scarlet Gospels, Clive Barker, May 2015, 6-01-015, 6,340, #9
Lots of the Sith: Star Wars, Paul Kemp, April 2015, 5-25-15, 12,450, #8
Day Shift, Charlaine Harris, May 2015, 5-18-15, 3,817, #18
The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, March 2015, 4-27-15, 43,323, #5
The Skull Throne, Peter V. Brett, March 2015, 4-13-15, 3,947, #14
Saint Odd, Dean R. Koontz, January 2015, 3-30-15, 78,344, #1
Trigger Warnings: Short Fictions, Neil Gaiman, February 2015, 3-23-15, 32,113, #5
Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars, Kevin Hearne, March 2015, 3-23-15, 7,432, #13
Vision in Silver, Anne Bishop, March 2015, 3-16-15, 2,635, #21
Blood Infernal, James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, 3-02-15, February 2015, 7,444, #13
Agenda 21: Into the Shadows, Glenn Beck, January 2015, 2-25-15, 23,666, #9
The Mime Order, Samantha Shannon, January 2015, 2-09-15, 2,486, #18
The Last American Vampire, Seth Grahame-Smith, January 2015, 2-02-15, 4,042, #25
The Empty Throne, Bernard Cornwell, January 2015, 1-26-15, 8,592, #12
Golden Son, Pierce Brown, January 2015, 1-19-15, 5,188, #14
Remember, these numbers don’t include all of the marketplace (some presses and independent bookstores don’t report numbers), and e-books aren’t included in “Hardcover” numbers. These numbers might represent 50% of the total sold for that week, and even less of the whole they’ll sell.
I tried to include everything of evenly vaguely genre interest. It’s amazing how well Koontz and King sell, absolutely dwarfing everyone else on the list (particularly King). Also note that just because a book never makes the overall top #25 doesn’t mean it’s not selling well. It just means it’s selling more slowly, and more through word-of-mouth than in the big publicity burst that gets you up here. Still, if you’re not in the Top #25, you’re probably selling fewer than 3,000 hard copies a week.
So, what do we learn? Most SFF books only make brief appearances in the bottom part of the list, popping up somewhere between #15-#25 and selling 2,500-5,000 or so books that week. King and Koontz, obviously more associated with horror, do better than anything from SFF.
In terms of SFF, a few books stand out. Seveneves has done very well, but not as well as The Buried Giant. Ishiguro tapped into the mainstream market; although the books was not particularly well received, it’ll be interesting to see if people remember it come award season. Kate Atkinson is doing well at the borderlands of SFF, but is thought of as more mainstream/romance than straight SFF. Nemesis Games and The Water Knife appeared briefly but both have a shot to show up in the Hugo. I thought Golden Son, which showed up for only one week, would have done better. From a sales perspective, it’s not the next The Hunger Games or Divergent. It’s interesting (and unepexcted) to see how well Glenn Beck did his dystopic novel. Ayn Rand still has plenty of fans.
As a point of comparison, PW has Grey by E.L. James selling 750,000 copies in three weeks.
I’ll continue to check in with the PW numbers to see if any SFF novels break out over the next few months.
Some of you are going to want to close your eyes for this one: the 2016 Hugo/Nebula watchlist. Too early? Never! Part of my goal with Chaos Horizon is to let me get a jump on my reading. That way, I’ll be ahead of—and not behind—the SFF scene. Basically, these are the books I’m keeping an eye on (and perhaps reading, depending on reviews) for my eventual 2016 predictions. Or, as Shelley tells us:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
This list is by no means final: new books will be announced through throughout the year, and it’s next to impossible to know what books by new/unknown authors will be important 12 months from now. This is an initial direction, no more. Despair if you must!
Here’s what I’ve got so far. All publication dates are from Amazon. As always, let me throw out my disclaimer: here at Chaos Horizon, I try to predict what will happen, not what should happen. Don’t take my list as an endorsement (or condemnation!) of any particular book.
Tier I: My Early Frontrunners (in alphabetical order)
Bacigalupi, Paolo, The Water Knife, 26-May-15
Jemisin, N.K., The Fifth Season, 4-Aug-15
Leckie, Ann, Ancillary Mercy, TBA
Liu, Ken, The Grace of Kings, 7-Apr-15
Okorafor, Nnedi, The Book of Phoenix, 5-May-15
Stephenson, Neal, Seveneves, 19-May-15
A busy year, with plenty of books by well-known authors. Stephenson returns with another awkwardly titled epic; Bacigalupi delivers his first adult SF novel since his 2010 Hugo and Nebula wins; and Leckie wraps up her Ancillary trilogy. On the fantasy front, Liu is delivering his debut novel, the first part of an ambitious trilogy. Okorafor’s book is a prequel to her well-liked Who Fears Death, which scored a Nebula nom and a World Fantasy win back in 2011. The Fifth Season seems to move Jemisin into post-apocalyptic SF, and she had Nebula noms in 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as a Hugo nomination from 2011.
Both the Nebula and Hugo are very repetitive, as we learned from my Repeat Study—but they aren’t this repetitive. It’ll be about 65% repeaters for the Hugo, 50% for the Nebula (if past patterns hold true), so not each of these 6 books is going to make the final slate. Still, they’re a strong place to start. Of course, we don’t know if each of these books will live up to expectations, but that’s what the next year is for.
Tier I: Other Candidates (in alphabetical order)
Bear, Elizabeth, Karen Memory, 3-Feb-15
Bennett, Robert Jackson, City of Blades, TBA
Bodard, Aliette, The House of Shattered Wings, 1-Sep-15
Chu, Wesley, Time Salvager, 07-Jul-15
Cline, Ernest, Armada, TBA
Corey, James S.A., Nemesis Games, 2-Jun-15
Danielewski, Mark, The Familiar, Volume 1, 12-May-15
Elliot, Kate, Court of Fives, 18-Aug-15
Hurley, Kameron, The Empire Ascendant, TBA
Kowal, Mary Robinette, Of Noble Family, 28-Apr-15
Liu, Cixin, The Dark Forest, 7-Jul-15
Lord, Karen, The Galaxy Game, 6-Jan-15
Milan, Victor, The Dinosaur Lords, 28-Jul-15
Naomi, Novik, Uprooted, 19-May-15
North, Clair, Touch, 24-Feb-15
Roberts, Adam, The Thing Itself, TBA
Robinson, Kim Stanley, Aurora, 7-Jul-15
Scalzi, John, The End of All Things, 11-Aug-15
Schwab, V.E., A Darker Shade of Magic, 24-Feb-15
Stross, Charles, The Annihilation Score, 7-Jul-15
Valente, Catherynne, Radiance, 18-Aug-15
Valentine, Genevieve, Persona, 10-Mar-15
Walton, Jo, The Just City, 13-Jan-15
Wilson, Robert Charles, The Affinities, 21-Apr-15
These books are all viable candidates based on past award history or early buzz. I won’t go through them one by one, but this at least gives me a chance to begin organizing my reading. Each of these potential nominees will need to be well-received when the book actually comes out. No one has read most of these books yet, so we don’t know if they’re good, great, or just average.
I’m sure I missed as many books as I’ve included. What else is coming out in 2015 that has a shot at either a Hugo or Nebula in 2016? Good grief, 2016 sounds like the far future, doesn’t it?
And don’t worry—I’ll try not to mention the 2016 awards again until after the 2015 Hugo and Nebula are awarded.