Where did November go? Between the Thanksgiving holiday and wrapping up my classes for this semester, it’s blurred by. But it’s December 1st, so time to update my 2015 Hugo Prediction.
Reminder: Chaos Horizon is dedicated to predicting what is likely to happen in the 2015 awards, not what “should” happen. So, long story short, I’m not advocating any of these books for the Hugo, but simply predicting, based on past Hugo patterns, who is most likely to get a nomination. I’ve based these on the various Reports I’ve done, the Review Round-Ups of individual texts, and my tracking of various Hugo Metrics.
Changes: I moved VanderMeer to #1. Why? Well, the most basic reason is I raised him to the top of my Nebula prediction. Since 2000, the Nebulas and the Hugos have begun to converge. In those 15 years, 7 of the Best Novel Nebula winners have gone on to win the Hugo. That’s roughly 50%—great odds for any gambler. The odds are actually even better, because the Nebula winner doesn’t always make the Hugo ballot. When the Nebula winner has been on the Hugo ballot, it’s gone on to win 6 out of the last 7 times, for an eye-popping 86%. Redshirts over 2132 is the only recent example of the Nebula winner getting upset. Since the basic premise of Chaos Horizon is to do something other than just give my (often wrong) opinion, this is as a good a logic as I can find. While statistics can mislead and fail, I hope to at least provide something different than everything else out there. If you’re dissatisfied with a predicted VanderMeer sweep, remember that it’s still early (December, and the Hugo won’t be given until next Summer), and a lot may change.
Additionally, VanderMeer has done well with critics, is popping up on most year-end lists, and has solid popularity metrics. I also feel Annihilation stands well on its own, as a brief horror-SF novel, and you don’t need to read the less successful Authority and Acceptance to get the full effect. Others might disagree, and feel that Annihilation isn’t a stand-alone book, and we’ll get to see how that plays out over the next few month.
I think voters will be reluctant to give Leckie back to back Hugos, and Ancillary Sword hasn’t made the same waves as Ancillary Justice. The most popular SF book of the year, The Martian, isn’t likely to be eligible; the most popular fantasy book of the year, Words of Radiance, is the second in a series (those don’t get nominated unless the first was also nominated). This makes VanderMeer the most likely candidate almost by default; what else is there in 2014 that has the mix of popularity, critical sentiment, and genre demographics to make it a prime candidate? While there’s still time for a book like City of Stairs to catch fire, it needs to start catching soon.
The other changes are more modest. I’ve moved Echopraxia and The Mirror Empire down based on their popularity, or lack thereof. While both novels were well-received by critics, they’re simply not doing as well in the marketplace as other books. On its most basic level, the Hugo is a popularity contest, and you need to be popular to win. This leaves a SF hole near the top, and Gibson—who is making a ton of year-end lists—seems the most logical to slide into that spot. I still have him outside the Hugo slate, but there are a ton of SF only Hugo voters that might push Gibson up. Bennett also moves up as the most like fantasy Hugo newcomer. I’ve also added Cambias and A Darkling Sea to the list as perhaps the most heralded SF debut of the year. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven also debuts at #15.
December should be a big month for the Hugo picture, as more and more year-end lists come up. Pay careful attention to the lists produced by SFF websites, as they are usually good indicators for the Hugo and Nebula. Mainstream lists like Amazon or Publisher’s Weekly are too outside of SFF fandom to be of much help in the prediction.
The current prediction:
Tier I: Likely to be Nominated
This tier is full of strong contenders, based on previous Hugo Best Novel performance, reviews, genre, and popularity.
1. Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: Beginning of his Southern Reach trilogy, all published this year. Popular, well-reviewed and well-liked. More people read and liked this short first volume than finished the series, so I think it’s Annihilation and not the whole Southern Reach that ends up nominated. Since I have this on top of my Nebula prediction, it needs to be on top of my Hugo prediction as well.
2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: The sequel to the 2014 Hugo and Nebula winning Ancillary Justice has been well-reviewed and received, but will fans want to give the award to Leckie twice in a row?
The Martian, Andy Weir: The bestselling SF novel of 2014, but I don’t think it will be eligible. See my post on the issue. This book is just so enormously popular it’s bound to receive lots of votes, eligible or not.
3. Lock In, John Scalzi: The 2013 Best Novel Hugo winner, and Lock In has been quite popular. Scalzi has tons of prior noms, and the past is a great indicator of the future.
4. Monster Hunter Nemesis, Larry Correia : 2014 Hugo Best Novel nominee, placed 6th in 2013, and a prominent Hugo campaigner.
5. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett: The book I feel most uncertain about predicting a Hugo nomination. Very well-reviewed and well-liked fantasy novel, benefits from being a stand-alone book. Has shades of Mieville and Gaiman, both of whom have done very well. But have enough people read it for this to be a likely nomination?
Tier II: A Fighting Chance
These authors will need some help to make into the slate: strong placement on year-end lists, a big sales push during the Holiday season, a Nebula nomination (which helps your Hugo chances greatly), or some sort of formal or informal campaign. I’d note that some of these books might well be “better” than the books above them, but we’re discussing Hugo chances here, not which books are actually best.
6. Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson : Nominated with Robert Jordan for Wheel of Time in 2014; first book in this series (The Way of Kings) placed 11th in 2011; staggeringly popular. If the Hugo wasn’t biased against epic Fantasy, this would be a shoo-in.
7. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison: The other fast rising fantasy candidate, a popular fantasy novel. Strong reviews and well liked. Is there enough space for multiple fantasy novels on the Hugo slate, though, or can only one of Bennett/Hurley/Addison make the field? Could Sanderson crush them all?
8. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley : 2014 Best Fan Writer Hugo winner, 2014 Best Related Work Hugo winner, 2012 Nebula novel nominee, first novel in an ambitious new series. Proved divisive amongst reviewers, and popularity isn’t as strong as other contenders.
9. William Gibson, The Peripheral: Gibson hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo since 1998, but there’s a lack of obvious SF candidates. Critics have been enthusiastic about Gibson’s return to “true” SF, so this is garnering a lot of attention.
10. My Real Children, Jo Walton: 2012 Hugo winner, lower on list because of a lack of strong SFF element.
11. Symbiont, Mira Grant: Nominated for four Hugos in a row from 2011-2014, although she barely made the field last year; published very late in year (November) for a Hugo contender.
12. Echopraxia, Peter Watts : First novel since his 2007 Best Novel Hugo nomination for the highly regarded Blindsight. If The Martian is ineligible, Watts seems to be the next most-logical SF novel to slide into its place. However, this doesn’t seem to be as popular as I expected.
13. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell: Surprisingly popular literary novel; contains some speculative elements (war with strange psychic entities), but those are late in the book. More of a Nebula than Hugo nominee.
14. Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes : Beukes placed 7th in the 2014 Hugos, 11th in 2012, but this is more crime and less speculative than the excellent The Shining Girls.
15. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: The literary post-apocalyptic darling of 2014, this has been burning up the sales charts recently. Doesn’t seem like a Hugo book to me, but the sheer market saturation is likely to yield Mandel some votes.
16. Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey: 2012 Hugo nominee, 8th in 2013, 14th in 2014.
Tier III: Long Shots
These authors could have an argument made for them, but would need quite a bit to happen to make it into the slate.
17. The Rhesus Chart, Charles Stross: 2014 Hugo nominee, 2014 Novella Hugo winner, last novel in this series (Apocalypse Codex, from the Laundry novels) didn’t place in top 15.
18. Elizabeth Bear, The Eternal Range trilogy: With Jordan getting nominated last year, there have been some rumblings about nominating Bear’s well-reviewed fantasy trilogy. That’s going to take a lot of effort to happen, particularly if you take a look at the popularity indicators for Bear (number of ratings on Goodreads, for instance: the last volume has a mere 269 ratings as of November 1, 2014). Not enough readers = not much of a chance.
19. Valour and Vanity, Mary Robinette Kowal: 2014 Hugo Novelette winner, 2011 Hugo Short Story winner, placed 8th in 2011, 10th in 2012 for Best Novel.
20. A Darkling Sea, James Cambias: SF debut novel that has gotten some strong critical attention.
21. Mainstream Fantasy Novels: There are plenty of mainstream fantasy writers that don’t stand much of a chance, despite their books being well liked. Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, etc. The Hugo has never been very hospitable to novels in Epic fantasy series. Vote for Sanderson if you want a book like this on the slate.
22. The Space Epics: Same thing with these. Books like Peter F. Hamilton’s The Abyss Beyond Dreams, Alastair Reynold’s On The Steel Breeze, may seem like possible candidates, but they haven’t done well in recent years. Throw Greg Bear in here as well.
23. Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem: A high profile release by China’s most popular SF author, but foreign-language texts have done terribly in the Hugos.
24. The Chaplain’s War, Brad Torgersen: First novel, 2014 Hugo Novelette and Short Story nominee, 2012 Hugo and Nebula Novelette nominee, didn’t grab much attention when released. Could be part of a future “Sad Puppy” campaign by Correia.
25. The Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor: No 2014 US release for this book dooms any chances.
26. The Girl with All the Gifts, M.S. Carey: Popular zombie book, would need tons of support to make the slate.
So, what do you think? Who is the frontrunner in December?
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?
Robert Jackson Bennett, author of horror tinged novels like American Elsewhere and Mr. Shivers, moves more into the realm of fantasy with City of Stairs, a novel where the Gods (Divinities) walk among mankind in a densely-built world. The novel’s got a secondary world, complex politics, and even a murder mystery for good measure. Bennett winds up with a unique mix of urban fantasy, fantasy, and Gaiman-style American Godsness, producing an ambitious, accomplished, and fun novel.
I don’t have Bennett down officially in my Too Early Hugo Prediction or my Too Early 2015 Nebula Prediction, but I think he’s a dark horse for the Nebula award, and, if the novel catches on in a big way, an outsider for the Hugo. The problem here is one of genre—Bennett is more associated with horror than science fiction and fantasy, and he’ll have to attract a crossover audience to get this novel into consideration. Hugo and Nebula voters have embraced Neil Gaiman in the past, and Gaiman has an equally experimental mix of horror and fantasy; if Bennett can tap into that audience, watch out.
On to the book:
WordPress Blog Reviewers:
Fantasy Review Barn (5 out of 5)
Lettuce be Cereal (4.5 out of 5)
BiblioSanctum (4.5 out of 5)
Drunken Dragon Reviews (4.5 out of 5)
Ristea’s Reads (5 out of 5)
Lekeisha the Book Nerd (4 out of 5)
Little Red Reviewer
I like looking at the WordPress reviews because they give a real sense of how excited actual readers (and not the reading press) are about a novel. The more reviews, and the more positive the reviews, the better off the novel is going to do. City of Stairs is attracting quite bit of enthusiasm: there are a good number of early reviews, and the scores have been positive. Of the five Review Round-Ups I’ve now done, this is the highest ranked book so far. It will be interesting to see how far this novel breaks out—will it filter down to the general SFF reader, or stay a niche product?
If you have any WordPress reviews you’d like me to add, let me know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.