Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was announced as the winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel over the weekend. A week ago there was a small debate here about whether winning the Nebula had conferred “front-runner” status on Chabon’s novel. Now with a Locus Award to its credit, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union surely is the favorite of bookmakers as well as book readers.
Or is it? How valuable are SFWA’s Nebula Award and the Locus Awards for predicting the Hugo-winning Best Novel?
They aren’t worth a darn, as it turns out.
The Hugo Awards were first given in 1953, SFWA’s Nebula Award in 1966, the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1971, and for Best Fantasy Novel in 1978.
Originally, there was a strong pattern of duplication. For seven of the first nine years of the awards’ co-existence they practically marched in lockstep, with the same novel winning all three.
Then, from 1980-1987, the Hugo-winning novel also won either the Nebula or the Locus Award almost every year – and Brin’s Startide Rising, 1984, and Card’s Speaker for the Dead, 1987, won all three. Only C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, the 1982 Hugo winner, failed to collect either of the other awards during this eight-year span.
Over the next 12 years, 1988-1999, the Nebula fell out of step, matching the Hugo winner only twice. But Locus Awards were voted to 10 of the 13 Hugo-winning novels (13 because there was a tie in 1993). During this period, only Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book (part of the 1993 Hugo tie) won all three awards.
For the last 8 years (2000-2007) there has been no consistency at all. Five the past eight Hugo-winning novels won neither the Nebula nor Locus awards.
However, two Hugo winners, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2002) and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls (2004), scored all three awards. Interestingly, in both cases, it was the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel that completed the hat trick. The only other Hugo winner to receive another of the awards during this period was Vinge’s Rainbows End, which was voted a 2007 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
Has there has ceased to be a significant overlap between Hugo voters and the pros who vote for the Nebula, or the general public who vote in the Locus Poll?
Despite there being numbers of SFWA members with Worldcon memberships, people who can actually vote for the Hugos, it’s obvious that Best Novel Hugo parted company with the Nebula long ago — they’ve only had a common winner four times in the past 20 years.
Now and then lightning will strike — even again and again and again, as in the old song — and a book will sweep. But the recent trend has been for there to be no lightning at all, for the Hugo winner to march to its own drummer. The divergence between the Hugos and the Locus Awards is fairly recent and invites the question — Why did things change? Speculation, anyone?
See the annotated list of Hugo-winning novels behind the cut.