It’s the 15th of the month, so time to update my Nebula Award for Best Novel prediction! Last year, the slate was announced on February 25th, so we’re just 3 months away from learning the nominees.
So what’s changed since my last prediction? We’ve gotten to see how various novels have performed with reviewers, fans, and in terms of popularity. As websites begin to publish their year-end lists, a narrative has begun to emerge for 2014, with books like City of Stairs and The Goblin Emperor getting lots of positive buzz. These books join more obvious candidates like Annihilation and Ancillary Sword.
I’ve also done a couple of Reports that have allowed me to better understand past patterns of the Nebula, particularly how the Nebula Best Novel category tends to nominate 50% previous nominees and 50% rookie nominees. This boosts the odds of someone like Katherine Addison or Robert Jackson Bennett, both looking to earn their first nomination.
Despite this information, the Nebulas are much harder to predict than the Hugos. The Nebulas involve a smaller group of voters (SFWA members, many of whom don’t seem to vote), publish less data (it keeps the vote totals secret), and tends to nominate obscure books (Nagata and Gannon last year, for instance). The Nebula is also a more “writerly” award; some of the popular authors in the Hugo—Scalzi or Stross—have never done well in the Nebulas. It’s harder to predict what writers are going to like than fans, given that fans tend be more vocal about their likes and dislikes.
Disclaimer: As always, Chaos Horizon predicts what is likely to happen in the Nebula awards, not what “should” happen. By data-mining past awards, I try to discover patterns to base my predictions on. This is an imperfect science—the past is not a 100% predictor of the future, otherwise we’d know everything that would happen—so take the list as no more than a rough guide.
Tier I: Likely to be Nominated
The leading candidates, based on critical reception and past Nebula performance.
1. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: I’ve moved VanderMeer above Leckie based on two things: the Nebula’s past reluctance to award the Nebula to the same author two years in a row, and the sheer popularity of Annihilation amongst critics and readers. VanderMeer scored a Nebula nomination back in 2010 for Finch, and this has been the best reviewed and received novel of his career. I think Annihilation, the first volume of his three part Area X (all published in 2014), is the most likely to get nominated. This is the shortest, most accessible, most read, and most interesting part of the trilogy, although I wouldn’t be stunned to see all of Area X on the slate.
2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: Ancillary Sword hasn’t kicked up the same enthusiasm as Ancillary Justice, but it’s still been well-reviewed and received. Expect a nomination but not a win.
Tier II: A Strong Chance
I told you the Nebula is hard to predict. Beyond Leckie and VanderMeer, I’m not sure anyone is “likely” to make the final slate, but a wide range of authors have good chances. Remember, the Nebula has been roughly 50% repeat nominees, 50% newcomers; if this year follows that trend, that would be good for Bennett and Addison.
3. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: Mitchell has a 2005 Nebula nom for the well liked Cloud Atlas, and this was the biggest “literary” SFF novel of the year. Huge sales, tons of mainstream coverage, with a “love it or hate it” kind of reaction by readers. I worry this isn’t speculative enough for the SFWA voters, and the length (600+ pages) is likely a problem. Everything else in the Top 10 is under 450 pages, with many of the books around 300 pages.
4. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett: This dark, stand-alone fantasy about dead gods and a mysterious city seems tailor-made for the Nebulas: while fantasy series do poorly, stand alone fantasy novels have done better. This book has a similar to feel to some of Gaiman and Mieville, which bodes well for his Nebula chances. Bennett is also picking up steam as the year goes along; he may be peaking at just the right time.
5. Coming Home, Jack McDevitt: 11 prior Nebula noms for best novel (!), but no 2013 or 2014 nom; still, you can’t count McDevitt out. We’re also light on major SF candidates this year, and that might allow McDevitt to sneak back in.
6. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley: 2012 Nebula nom, start of a well-received new fantasy series. Also the best cover of the year, if that helps.
7. My Real Children, Jo Walton: 2012 Nebula winner, 2012 Hugo winner, less SFF than her other works, although the Nebulas cares less about that than the Hugos.
The Martian, Andy Weir: This was the biggest debut SF novel of 2014, although eligibility issues—the book was originally self-published in 2012—are likely to prevent a nomination. It is also less “writerly”—and more action driven—than what the Nebula tends to nominate.
9. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison: Well received fantasy novel, offering an alternative to the dominant “grimdark” model currently so popular. Pen-name of Sarah Monette. After Bennett, the most buzzed about possible “newcomer” to the Nebula slate.
10. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: Another literary SF novel, this time with a post-apocalyptic twist. This has gotten lots of mainstream coverage—it was named by Amazon the best SFF novel of 2014. One of last year’s big “literary” SFF novels, The Golem and the Jinni scored a Nebula nom, so this has a chance.
Tier III: In the Mix
11. The Peripheral, William Gibson: Gibson hasn’t been in the Nebula mix for more than a twenty years, but this is a return to more traditional SF. The top part of this prediction is too light on SF for the Nebula, so Gibson might get a SF “boost” into the slate.
12. Echopraxia, Peter Watts: Watts doesn’t have much past success in the Nebulas (no nominations ever), but this was one of the more highly anticipated SF books of 2014.
13. Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal: 2011 Nebula nom, 2013 Nebula nom for prior books in this series.
14. Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress: 5 prior Nebula wins, including 2013 Nebula novella; 2 prior Nebula best novel noms.
15. The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne: High concept debut novel, good buzz.
16. Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes: Beukes has almost scored Hugo noms in the past, but she hasn’t done as well in the Nebulas. High quality speculative/detective hybrid.
17. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu: Major English-language debut by one of China’s most popular SF writers; translated by Nebula winner Ken Liu; foreign language books have historically done terribly at the Nebulas.
18. Literary Fiction interlopers: A large number of books from the literary world have used speculative elements this year, and the Nebula has, in the past, been somewhat receptive. This long list includes Strange Bodies by Marcel Thereoux, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, J by Harold Jacobson (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, The Bees by Laline Paull, and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. If one of these books gets nominated, it would be similar to The Golem and the Jinni’s nomination from 2014.
19. The Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor: 2011 Nebula nom, but this novel only came out in UK this year; no US release yet dooms her chances.
20. Mainstream SFF writers: A lot of the biggest-sellers of SFF are missing from the above list: Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, James S.A. Corey, John Scalzi, Mira Grant, Charles Stross, Joe Abercrombie, Lev Grossman, Deborah Harkness, Diana Gabaldon, I could go on and on. These kind of massively popular books have never done very well at the Nebula awards, particularly if they are part of a series. I don’t expect that to be different this year, but you never know.
That’s quite a list—a pretty busy year in science fiction and fantasy. Who’s on your list for the 2015 Nebulas? Who deserves to be here that’s not?
As part of Chaos Horizon’s continued look at the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel, here’s my 2015 Nebula Watchlist:
Disclaimer: Chaos Horizon tries to determine which novels are most likely to be nominated based on data-mining past awards data, not who should be nominated for having the “best” novel in a more general sense. Take the list for what it is intended to be, as a starting point for debate of the 2015 Nebula.
In general, the Nebula award is harder to predict the Hugo award because we have less data. The Hugo award releases a list of the top 15 authors nominated that year, complete with number of votes. The Nebula only releases the final slate, with no actual information on how many votes each author got. This makes it harder to find out who was close in previous years, giving us far less info to make a good prediction on.
1. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (2014 Nebula winner, 2014 Hugo winner)
2. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (2010 Nebula nom, first book of a three book series all released this year, which received a lot of attention and buzz)
3. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (2005 Nebula nom for the well liked Cloud Atlas, huge marketing push, made NYT bestseller lists)
4. My Real Children, Jo Walton (2012 Nebula winner, 2012 Hugo winner, less SFF than her other works, although the Nebula cares less about that than the Hugo)
5. The Martian, Andy Weir (biggest debut SF novel of 2014, although eligibility issues—the book was originally self-published in 2012—might prevent a nomination)
6. Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (11 prior Nebula noms for best novel (!), but no 2013 or 2014 nom; still, you can’t count McDevitt out)
7. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley (2012 Nebula nom, start of a well-received new series)
8. Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal (2011 Nebula nom, 2013 Nebula nom for prior books in this series)
9. Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (5 prior Nebula wins, including 2013 Nebula novella; 2 prior Nebula best novel noms)
10. The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne (high concept debut novel, good buzz)
11. Strange Bodies, Marcel Thereoux (won 2014 Campbell award, one of the few times Ancillary Justice got beat; maybe that counts for something?)
12. Literary Fiction interlopers: A large number of books from the literary world have used speculative elements this year, and the Nebula has, in the past, been somewhat receptive. This long list includes The Girl With all the Gifts by M.R. Carrey, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, J by Harold Jacobson (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, and The Bees by Laline Paull. If one of these books gets nominated, it would be similar to The Golem and the Jinni‘s nomination from 2014.
13. The Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor (2011 Nebula nom, but this novel only came out in UK this year; no US release yet)
That’s all I could come up with for now—it’s much harder to populate this list than the Hugo Watchlist, as Nebula voters are so unpredictable. I’m 100 % positive there are books not on this watchlist that will make the final slate, but what could they be?
If a novel didn’t make the list, it’s likely because the author lacked any real Nebula pedigree: that’s why a John Scalzi or Joe Abercrombie didn’t make it. Likewise, later novels in series rarely jump into the slate if earlier novels didn’t get nominated, cutting out an author like Elizabeth Bear.
The list is compiled using several factors:
1. Winners and nominees over the past several years: once you get nominated or win a Nebula, you’re likely to get nominated again. The Nebula has a much longer memory than the Hugo, and Nebula nominees from a decade back (like Griffth last year) can resurface.
2. Who won or was nominated for the Nebula in other categories and have novels coming out this year.
3. Potential crossovers with the Hugo awards.
4. Novels that have lots of critical buzz.
For more information about specific novels, check out My Too Early 2015 Nebula Prediction.
Obviously, this is not an exact science. Since Chaos Horizon primarily uses past Nebula performance to predict future Nebula performance, this hurts novelists who have never been nominated for the Nebula before.
I’d like to get the Watchlist to 15 by the end of the year. Anyone else to add? Thanks to everyone in previous threads who suggested novels. If you post a suggestion, try to back it up with some data. I’m waffling on Cherie Preist’s Maplecroft: she scored a 2010 nomination for Boneshaker, but this novel looks more horror than SFF.
David Mitchell, best known to SFF fans for his Nebula-nominated Cloud Atlas, returns with another genre-bending novel in The Bone Clocks. Best classified as an author of literary and experimental fiction, Mitchell has amassed quite a reputation in the past ten years as a leading post-modern provocateur. Mitchell’s books tend to range across a number of time periods and, in this case, Mitchell takes us from 1984 all the way to 2043, all while drawing on several different genres, including fantasy. I have this book down as a potential Nebula nominee: he has the prior nomination, the Nebula likes experimental and literary fiction, and the book has received a huge marketing push.
The Bone Clocks has been described as an “occult thriller,” and this may raise red flags concerning how speculative the novel actually is. Unlike Cloud Atlas, which had sections that were clearly SF, The Bone Clocks falls more into the murky edges of the SFF landscape. That’s likely going to keep this novel out of Hugo contention, but the Nebula award has been receptive to these kinds of texts. Just last year, two novels were nominated that were equally on the SFF borderlands: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a realistic novel about a young woman realizing she had been raised alongside a chimpanzee in a science experiment, and Hild, a historical novel about St. Hilda of Whitby. Chaos Horizon stays out of the often nasty-fights about genre borders: Mitchell received a prior Nebula nomination, The Bone Clocks is getting rave reviews, and the book has been highly visible. That’s probably enough to make it a Nebula contender.
Some SFF readers are going to hate this novel for its lack of genre content; others are going to love its experimental nature. Receiving a Nebula nomination depends more on having passionate readers than pleasing everyone.
On to the book:
WordPress Blog Reviewers:
Raging Biblio-Holism (6 out of 5)
Barda Book Talk
Bookmarks and Coffee Mugs
Jane & Bex Book Blog
True Reader Reviews
One More Page…
I Read A Lot
A Bibliophile’s Reverie
For how long the book is (600+ pages), that’s an impressive number of early reviews. From the Chaos Horizon’s perspective—focused on whether or not books are Hugo and Nebula contenders—a lot of these reviews come from outside the SFF community. That’s a great advantage for The Bone Clocks: by attracting mainstream/literary attention, it’ll be part of the conversation whether or not SFF fans are drawn to it. More discussion = more likelihood of a nomination.
On top of that, a lot of the early WordPress reviewers are very enthusiastic about the book. As always, if you have a WordPress blog and I missed your review, let me know in the comments and I’ll link it.
Here’s my far far too early take on the 2015 Nebula Award, to join my equally Too Early 2015 Hugo Prediction.
Of the Hugos and Nebulas, the Nebula slate is harder to predict. The Nebula is given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, with the rules explained here. Long story short: the some 1500+ members of the SFWA are eligible to nominate works for the Nebula award.
That’s a small group, and the group making nominations is even smaller. This makes the final slate very unpredictable: every year, there are several wild-card nominees that are total surprises. Just this last year, we had nominations of Charles Gannon’s Fire with Fire and Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light, both of which would have been near impossible to predict. Unlike the Hugo committee, the Nebula committee does not release statistics to the public, so we don’t know how many nominations it takes to get on the slate. I imagine it’s a very small number. As such, any predictions about the bottom half of the slate are almost 100% certain to be wrong.
That said, here’s a rough prediction. Remember, these are what books are likely to be nominated, not what should be nominated:
1. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword
2. Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
3. Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire
4. David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks
5. Jack McDevitt, Coming Home
6. Some novel I’ve never heard of
7. Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
8. Andy Weir, The Martian
9. Jo Walton, My Real Children
I could also see some literary SFF books creeping in: The Bees by Laline Paull, Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux, On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee, or Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. If the Nebulas want to be truly inclusive, The Three Body Problem by Chinese SF star Cixin Liu might have a shot.
I’ve tried to build these nominations off who has been nominated recently, and the kind of push the books have gotten in the press and blogging community. The top 5 books from my list are all by previously nominated Nebula authors:
Leckie won last years Nebula and Hugo, and is as good a bet as any to return.
VanderMeer received a Nebula nomination for Finch in 2010, and his Southern Reach trilogy, all published this year, has been one the best-reviewed and best-marketed series of his career. Authority even hit the NYT bestseller list. This kind of ambitious series, coupled with the unusual decision to publish three volumes in one year, should attract Nebula voters. My only concerns it that voters won’t know what to vote for: individual books in the series or the series as a whole. I’m putting down the first book—a creepy and disturbing journey into a mysterious Area X—as the most likely to get a nom.
Hurley picked up a Nebula nomination for God’s War in 2012, and this is the start of an ambitious new fantasy series. There’s not a lot of epic fantasy amongst the potential nominees, so Hurley has a good shot of attracting that element of the SFF community.
Mitchell is a hard one. Cloud Atlas got a nomination way back in 2005, and Mitchell’s stature has risen since then. He is, however, a more experimental writer, and The Bone Clocks certainly seems more post-modern than speculative. If a small group of voters really like Mitchell’s book—a strong possibility: you either tend to love or hate this kind of book—they could push him to a nom.
McDevitt: you can never count him out of the Nebula. He has been nominated 8 out of the last 10 years for this award. While he missed out last year, will he return? I’m not sure I understand why McDevitt keeps getting nominated, but you can’t argue against that track record. He must have a core group of very dedicated fans in the SFWA.
Kowal is an intriguing choice. She scored nominations for her 2011 and 2013 for books from her Glamourist history series, in a “Jane Austen meets magic” kind of way. The latest novel in this series, Valour and Vanity, seems to vary up that formula by adding a heist into the regency mix; it’s received some of the best reviews of this series since Shades of Milk and Honey. Has the series run it’s Nebula course, or we will see a return to the slate?
Weir is beginning to trouble me, largely because of the complicated question of his eligibility. I’d have him higher if that status wasn’t so murky. The Martian was indie-published first—it seems somewhat odd that you can’t join the SFWA on the basis of indie-publishing, but that they might exclude a novel from Nebula consideration because of that. Until we get a ruling on eligibility from or the Nebulas, The Martian is going to have to float at the fringes of a potential slate.
Walton won the Nebula two years ago, and I’d have My Real Children higher if it was more speculative. Still, Walton is well-liked, the book is well-reviewd. I should probably have this higher.
A lot of the more commercial novelists who do well in the Hugo noms—authors like Scalzi or Stross, for instance—tend not to show up on the Nebula slates. I’ve largely excluded those books from consideration, but if anyone has a strong reason why one of those should be included, let me know.
Other suggestions? Thoughts? Who else have I missed?