The Unpredictable Best Novel Hugo

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.

Annotated list of Hugo-winning novels since 1971. N = Nebula winner. LS = Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. LF = Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.


2007 Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge (LS)

2006 Spin, Robert Charles Wilson

2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

2004 Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold (N, 05),(LF)

2003 Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer

2002 American Gods, Neil Gaiman (N, 03), (LF)

2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling

2000 A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge

1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis (LS)

1998 Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman (N, 99)

1997 Blue Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (LS)

1996 The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson (LS)

1995 Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold (LS)

1994 Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (LS)

1993 (tie) Doomsday Book, Connie Willis, (N, 93),(LS) A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge

1992 Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold (LS)

1991 The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold

1990 Hyperion, Dan Simmons (LS)

1989 Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh (LS)

1988 The Uplift War, David Brin (LS)

1987 Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card (N, 87),(LS)

1986 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (N, 86)

1985 Neuromancer, William Gibson (N, 85)

1984 Startide Rising, David Brin (N, 84)

1983 Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov (LS)

1982 Downbelow Station, C. J. Cherryh

1981 The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge (LS)

1980 The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke (N, 80)

1979 Dreamsnake, Vonda N. McIntyre (N, 79),(LS)

1978 Gateway, Frederik Pohl (N, 78),(LS)

1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm (LS)

1976 The Forever War, Joe Haldeman (N, 76),(LS)

1975 The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin (N, 75),(LS)

1974 Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (N, 73),(LS)

1973 The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov (N, 73),(LS)

1972 To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip José Farmer

1971 Ringworld, Larry Niven (N, 71),(LS)


2 thoughts on “The Unpredictable Best Novel Hugo

  1. Pingback: Science Fiction Awards Watch » Blog Archive » Handicapping the Hugos

  2. Wondered about Anansi Boys, which as I recall Neil Gaiman withdrew for the 2006 Hugos–it apparently won the Locus. (Don’t know whether he withdrew it for the Nebulas as well.)

    So that year has an added complication….

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