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?
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?
Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, a potential Hugo and Nebula candidate for 2015, was released on August 26, 2014. This is Hurley’s first foray into epic fantasy, and The Mirror Empire is getting some strong pre-release buzz. For the purpose this blog—Chaos Horizon is dedicated to predicting the Nebula and Hugo award winners—The Mirror Empire seems to be this season’s most-promising candidate for a breakout book, a la Ancillary Justice last year. Hurley won two Hugo’s just a few weeks ago (for Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work), and has previously been nominated for the Nebula for her novel God’s War. While you’re here, check out the Too Early 2015 Hugo Prediction and (this Friday) the Too Early 2015 Nebula Prediction.
Pre-release buzz and promise don’t mean much unless reviews are good, so let’s start collecting those:
About the Book:
Kameron Hurley’s Web Page
Kameron Hurley blogging about The Mirror Empire
Publisher’s Web Page (Angry Robot)
Reviews on Angry Robot’s Web Page
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Reviews by WordPress Bloggers:
The Scrying Orb
Drunken Dragon Reviews
Ristea’s Reads (5 out of 5)
Bibliotropic (5 out 5)
Looking for a Good Book (3.5 out of 5)
Joe’s Geek Fest
Bookwraiths (added 8/30/14) (2 out of 5)
Avid Reviews (added 8/30/14) (8.5 out of 10)
Violin in a Void (added 8/30/14) (6 out of 10)
Not a ton of reviews yet, but the book is long and we’re in the early days. Most reviews have been positive. People seem to like the ambition and complexity of the world, including some of its dismantling of fantasy conventions. Other reviewers have noted that this is the first novel in a series, and, at times, can feel like such—leaving some good material for later on.
Let me know if there are any other reviews I should add. I’ll be updating this post as more reviews come in.
I’ll be getting a chance to read the novel over the next week or so, so I’ll come back with my impressions later on.
NOTE: This post is from August 2014; click here for my most up-to-date Hugo Prediction.
Now that the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel has been awarded, we can turn our eyes to the 2015 Award. Today, I’ll predict an initial slate of 5 nominees. It’s definitely too early to do this: there are still almost four months left in the year, and several heavy hitters for the 2015 award season haven’t been released yet. Let’s get to my predicted 2015 slate, with comments below.
Note: this is who I think will be nominated, not necessarily who deserves to be nominated.
Predicted 2015 Hugo Nominees for Best Novel:
1. Lock In, John Scalzi
2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
3. Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia
4. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley
5. The Martian, Andy Weir
Book titles link to Amazon, and author names link to their blogs.
Where to start? The Hugos love nominating the same authors over and over again, so it’s likely at least some of the nominees will be drawn from previous slates. Mira Grant, for instance, has been nominated four years in a row now. Will she make it five? How about Charles Stross, another author who has been nominated multiple times over the past few years? Will Ann Leckie score another nomination? How about John Scalzi, returning after not publishing a novel last year? Will Larry Correia return as the “outsider” nominee?
These repeaters are pretty easy to get a sense of. Let’s look at the nominated authors from the past two years:
John Scalzi, Lock In (very likely to be nominated): Scalzi won the 2013 award for Redshirts, and he has a couple of other past nominations. With two of his series being optioned for television (Redshirts and the Old Man’s War series), his profile is only growing. Lock In has received an aggressive marketing campaign, and is almost certain to earn Scalzi another Hugo nomination.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword (very likely to be nominated if it comes out this year): Leckie just completed a dominating award season, sweeping both the Hugo and Nebula for Ancillary Justice. Her percentage total for Ancillary Justice was truly impressive for the Hugo, and if Ancillary Sword is anything but a complete disaster, it’s going to get nominated.
The biggest hurdle here is whether or not the novel comes out this year: Amazon is showing an October 7th, 2014 release date, but it also shows the novel as unavailable for pre-order. Problems or just Amazon skullduggery? UPDATE: Leckie confirms it is just Amazon skullduggery, and the novel is due out on October 7th! Crisis averted!
Larry Correia, Monster Hunter Nemesis (likely to be nominated): Larry Correia crashed the Hugo party this year with Warbound as conservative counter-programming to the perceived overly liberal Hugo slate. If you’re not familiar with this controversy, here’s Correia’s take on the whole thing, and you can find more information by googling “2014 Hugo Controversy.” While I don’t know if Correia is going to push a slate for 2015, Monster Hunter Nemesis is from his more popular military series Monster Hunter, and there are a large number of readers who like the kind of military SF and Fantasy books Baen specializes in publishing. Expect Correia to crash the party again in 2015.
Mira Grant, Symbiont (less likely to be nominated): With four nominations in a row, three from her Newsflesh series and the other being Parasite, which Symbiont is a direct sequel to, Grant may seem like a slam dunk for 2015. However, her new series has not been as popular as the zombie-themed Newsfeed books, and her vote percentage has been declining over the recent years. I think she’s left out this year, but we’ll see. It’ll depend a lot on if other strong contenders emerge between now and December.
Charles Stross, The Rhesus Chart (less likely to be nominated): Stross won a Hugo this year for best novella, and has been nominated multiple times over the past years. However, The Rhesus Chart is from his urban fantasy series The Laundry Files, and urban fantasy books don’t have the same impact on the Hugos as more traditional SF (like his nominated Neptune’s Brood this year). Look for Stross to sit this year out.
Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance (less likely to be nominated): You’d think Sanderson would have a decent shot: he’s the most popular fantasy writer not named George R. R. Martin, and he has a rabid fan base due to his involvement with Wheel of Time. Past Hugo awards tell us, though, that fantasy books like this don’t get nominated. This is the second volume of The Stormlight Archives, and although well-liked, it would be something of a surprise if it received a nomination.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Shaman (less likely to be nominated): Robinson has been a stalwart of the Hugos, but Shaman’s unusual subject matter (ancient humans and their religious beliefs) and so-so reception will likely not result in a nomination. When Robinson writes more traditional SF, expect him to return to the slate. Robinson’s book was published in 2013, not 2014, so it won’t be eligible.
Nominees from the past two years that don’t have a novel appearing this year: Saladin Ahmed, Louis McMaster Bujold, Robert Jordan.
So who else is likely to make it? N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season doesn’t look like it will arrive in 2014 (it’s listed with an August release date on her website, but there’s no page on Amazon). Jo Walton’s My Real Children has been well received, and she won the Hugo in 2012, so her book is a possibility. Walton, though, has been drifting away from SFF and more towards realistic fiction. Jeff VanderMeer is a favorite of mine, and his three book Southern Reach trilogy, all published this year, might be a contender if people figure out how to nominate it. William Gibson has a novel coming out with The Peripheral, but he hasn’t been a Hugo contender in years. If the Hugo award wanted to cross over to literary fiction, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks would be an interesting nominee.
There are two
debut (it was pointed out that Hurley’s novel isn’t a debut; I knew that but forgot. It’s actually the debut of a new series) other novels that stand out as contenders:
Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire (likely to be nominated): Hurley won two Hugo awards this year, one for Fan Writer and one for Best Related Work. This year, she’s moving in to fantasy in a big way, with an ambitious fantasy novel that’s gotten plenty of pre-publication buzz. We won’t know how well The Mirror Empire will do until we get some fan reaction, but this novel is poised to be this year’s Ancillary Justice: a debut novel that might capture the imagination of the SFF fanbase. Definitely a book to keep your eye on.
Andy Weir, The Martian (likely to be nominated): Weir’s book, although self-published in 2012, had its major publisher debut in 2014. Although the eligibility issue is confusing, let’s assume it’s eligible this year. If it is, this should be a strong contender: the novel rode the wave of the film Gravity to NYT bestseller status, and would represent a more classic “Hard SF” novel amongst this group. The paperback is coming in November, so it should receive another strong round of publicity late in the year, making it perfectly positioned for a Hugo nomination. I’ll be interested to see how this does on critic’s year end lists: it might even be the favorite.
Anything I missed? Who do you think will end up on the 2015 slate?