Tag Archive | Best of 2014

Best of 2014: Updated SFF Critics Meta-List

Hot off the presses is my newly collated SFF Critics Meta-List! This list includes 8 different “Best of 2014” lists, all by outlets that have a reasonable chance of either reflecting or influencing the Hugo/Nebula awards.

Currently included: Coode Street Podcast, io9, SF Signal, Strange Horizons, Jeff VanderMeer writing for Electric Literature, Adam Roberts writing for The Guardian, Tor.com, and a A Dribble of Ink. The lists were chosen because of their reach and previous reliability in predicting the Hugos/Nebulas (Tor, io9); the fame of the authors (VanderMeer, Roberts); or because the website/fancast has been recently nominated for a Hugo (Dribble, Strange Horizons, SF Signal, Coode Street). Any comments/questions about methodology are welcome.

Points: 1 point per list, unless the list is a collation of more than 3 critics (SF Signal, Strange Horizons, Tor.com). In that case, books can grab a maximum of 2 points, pro-rated for # of mentions on the list. See here for an explanation of this methodology.

6.5: Ancillary Sword
6: Annihilation
5: The Goblin Emperor
4.5: The Magician’s Land
4: Broken Monsters
4: The Bone Clocks
3.5: City of Stairs
3: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
3: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
3: The Girl in the Road
3: Lagoon
3: All Those Vanished Engines
3: The Peripheral
3: The Three-Body Problem
2.25: The Race
2: Tigerman
2: Steles of the Sky
2: Our Lady of the Streets
2: Nigerians in Space
2: Europe in Autumn
2: A Man Lies Dreaming
2: Station Eleven
2: The Martian
2: Half a King
2: The Causal Angel
2: Wolves
2: The Book of Strange New Things
2: The Memory Garden
2: My Real Children

Pretty much what I expected. The SFF world is often very repetitive (nominating the same authors over and over again), so Leckie makes sense at #1. She was so talked about for last year’s award she’s a natural for this year, even if people are less excited about Ancillary Sword. VanderMeer, Mitchell, and Bennett are no surprise near the top.

Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is doing well, particularly when the lists are a little more fan oriented. She does represent a methodological problem: she has 2 points from SF Signal and 2 points from Tor.com, as well as 1 point from Dribble of Ink. That’s concentrated, not broad support. In contrast, Leckie’s 6.5 points are spread out across 6 venues. If I gave 1 point max per venue, Addison would be knocked down to only 3 points. I’ll keep my eye on the math of this, and make adjustments to my counting as necessary. Remember, the goal is to be predictive, not perfect. We can just wait until the Nebula noms come out, and then reassess at that point.

In terms of Addison’s chances: secondary world fantasy is not an easy sell to the Nebula voters. I wouldn’t be shocked to see her on the slate, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if she missed. Given the way that the Nebula slate shapes the Hugo slate, her Hugo chances are closely tied to whether or not she grabs a Nebula nom.

Lev Grossman poses something of a problem. The Magicians trilogy is very well regarded, and books like this (fantasy that crosses over into the real world) have done well in the Nebulas as of late. Still, the last books of trilogies have usually NOT been part of the Hugo/Nebula process; it’ll be interesting to see if that bias continues.

Beukes is something of a surprise with Broken Monsters. A serial-killer novel that crosses over into a supernatural text in it’s last 50 pages, I’m not sure it’s speculative enough to grab an award nomination. Beukes almost made the Hugo slate last year, so don’t count this one out.

Some lesser known works, at least to Americans: Lagoon (no U.S. release, so Nebula eligibility is unlikely), All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park (not very hyped in the U.S.), The Race by Nina Allan (released in the U.S., but not widely known over here). It’ll be interesting to see if these works continue to be part of the conversation.

The snubs: Station Eleven isn’t taking this list by storm. That might reflect a simple timeline problem: the Mandel came out late in the year, so people might only be getting to read it now. The Martian is also way down, but is that because it wasn’t a 2014 book?

I’d still like to add several more lists to this collation to see if we get a better convergence. Locus Magazine will have their “Best of 2014,” and I’m waiting for several Hugo nominated blogs to get their lists out (Book Smugglers, Elitist). Anyone else you would suggest for this collation?

Here’s the data: Best of 2014. This list is on the second tab.

Best of 2014: The SFF Critics Meta-List

“Best of 2014” posts are beginning to appear by SFF critics. These posts are a great deal more important for predicting the Hugos and the Nebulas than the Mainstream lists I’ve already collated. For whatever reason, these SFF posts tend to come out later in the year—it’ll be early January before a lot of major SFF websites and blogs get their “Best of 2014” up.

However, we’re up to 4 such lists already, and one of those, the Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice list, actually collects 11 different critics’ lists. So, when we collate those lists together, we’re already getting a dozen critical voices as to what the Best SFF novels of 2014 are. Without further ado, let me present the collated list. Rules are simple: you get 1 point for appearing on a list, and then the points get added up. Here’s every book that got at least 2 points:

1. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (4 points)
1. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (4 points)
3. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (3 points)
3. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (3 points)
5. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North (2 points)
5. The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (2 points)
5. Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb (2 points)

And another 29 books appear only once. If you want the Excel file, here it is: Best of 2014; this list is located on the second page/tab at the bottom. The first worksheet is the Mainstream list. Note: I counted the Tor.com post as consisting of multiple lists; if you were picked by three critics on that list, you got three points.

We’re still early to draw definite conclusions, but this list is shockingly different than the Mainstream list. Mainstream darlings like The Bone Clocks and Station Eleven are nowhere to be found. An author like William Gibson, who is famous enough for The Peripheral to make many mainstream lists, only appears on one list so far. The Martian doesn’t grab the critical headlines like it does the popular headlines.

Instead, we have well-regarded but more “fantasy insider” books like City of Stairs and The Goblin Emperor. You really have to know the field pretty well to drill down to these books, and they are exactly the kind of books that the Nebula likes to honor. In fact, you could take the top 4 books off this list, add two random, lesser known SFF novels (the bottom of the Nebula slate is very unpredictable), and you’d likely have the 2015 Nebula slate.

This list currently collates lists from Tor.com Reviewers, A Dribble of Ink, and two SFF critics/authors. Adam Roberts, author of Yellow Blue Tibia and Bete offers a thoughtful and comprehensive “Best of SF 2014” at The Guardian. Jeff VanderMeer, himself a leading candidate for the 2015 Hugo and Nebula, offers a much more eclectic (and multi-year) list over at Electric Literature. VanderMeer largely avoids traditional SFF in his list, instead favoring on cross-genre and international literature.

Why these lists? Well, I’m looking for lists that represents the SFF critical world, including authors or critics that might actually vote in the Nebulas (SFWA members) or Hugos (WorldCon members). For this SFF Critics list, I’ve decided to collate the following: lists from major SFF blogs (defined by either popularity like Tor.com or by having been nominated for a Hugo best fanzine/best fan writer award) or lists from major SFF authors/critics. While there might be some argument in terms of who exactly I include, by collecting more and more lists that eccentricity should be diminished.

We’re going to need at least 10 lists before things settle down and we get a clear picture, but this is certainly an interesting start. I’ll be factoring this information in heavily when I update my Nebula prediction tomorrow.

Best of 2014: NPR

NPR (National Public Radio) has put up their “Best Books of 2014” webpage, including a long list of SFF novels from 2014. While certainly leaning more to the literary than the genre world, NPR is a little more tuned in to what’s happening SFF than some other mainstream outlets. I’ve listed just the novels below; they include plenty of comics, picture books, collections, reprints, etc.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
On Such a Full Sea, Chang-Rae Lee
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Horrorstor, Grady Hendrix
Afterparty, Daryl Gregory
The Martian, Andy Weir
The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert
The Bees, Laline Paul
The Man with the Compound Eyes, Wu Ming-Yi
Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal
California, Edan Lepucki
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer
The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan
The Peripheral, William Gibson
The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber
Southern Reach, Jeff VanderMeer
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu

Note the near total absence of epic fantasy—no Sanderson, Weeks, Hurley, Bear, Hobb, Rothfuss, etc. Other than that, this includes a lot of the Hugo and Nebula favorites. Echopraxia once again fails to make a year-end list, and The Peripheral continues to make these lists. On the basis of that popularity, I’d have to consider Gibson much more likely to make a slate than Watts this year.

A pattern for theses lists is emerging: the big “literary” SFF novels of the year (Mandel, Mitchell, Lee, Faber) joined with the big “genre” novels of the year (Gibson, Leckie, Weir, VanderMeer). I wonder if that’s how the Nebula is going to play out, as a battle between “literary” and “genre.” It would be interesting to see what kind of debates a Nebula slate of VanderMeer/Leckie/Gibson on one side versus Mitchell/Mandel/Lee would generate.

Washington Post’s Best Books of 2014

The Washington Post has gotten into the year-end “Best Of” act. For their top 5 Science Fiction/Fantasy novels of 2014, they have:

The Angel of Losses, Stephanie Feldman
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie

Like most mainstream outlets, that’s an interesting take on the year in SFF. You’ve got three authors—Feldman, North, and Valentine—that blur genre boundaries, one SF debut, and one fantasy novel. By edging away from works that are too overtly speculative, outlets like The Washington Post re-enforce the literary/genre split that is so prevalent today. Why have a dedicated Science Fiction/Fantasy list if you’re going to fill it with literary fiction? On a more positive note, Cambias is getting some good attention at the end of the year, and I’m going to have add him to my Hugo prediction. I haven’t read The Darkling Sea yet, but this is one of the reason I run Chaos Horizon, to help me find cool books that might have slipped under my radar.

A few other speculative novels show up on their other lists, including “The Ten Best Books of 2014” and “The Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014.”

Station Eleven made the main list of the “Ten Best” list, further solidifying Mandel’s position as the literary SFF darling of the year.

Other SFF Books on the Top 50 list:
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
J by Howard Jacobson
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Tigerman by Nick Harkaway
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Nice to see Gibson joining a range of more literary SFF novels. Fowler’s book was published way back in May of 2013, so I don’t know why it’s on a 2014 list. Fowler already scored a Nebula nom for her book last year, meaning that the Post can predict the Nebulas after they happen. Way to go! Fowler was up for the Booker this year (due to a later British publication date), so someone likely looked at the Booker list and assumed the book came out in 2014. Good to know even a major newspaper makes mistakes.

You might also want to include Revival by Stephen King, depending on how flexible your notion of SFF is. There’s also an interesting novel called Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell, which is about Shirley Jackson—not sure it would count as horror, but it sounds like a cool book.

Mainstream lists like this tell us relatively little about who is going to win the Hugo or Nebula award. The totality of these lists, though, frame the conversation that is going to happen over the next five or six months about the best SFF novels of the year, so they’re definitely worth keeping track of. I think mainstream reception, oddly enough, impacts the Nebula more than it does the Hugo; maybe writers are more swayed by the “lure” of literary fame than fans. Station Eleven has been so ubiquitous in the mainstream press that it is likely picking up votes.

This brings us up to 5 “year-end” lists already; I’m going to put up a collation of all these lists soon, so we can see who is leading the mainstream “year-end” race. Once the major SFF outlets start putting their lists up—and those lists matter a great deal more for predicting the Hugos and Nebulas—I’ll do the same with them.

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