The Coming of the Great Old Ones: A Statistical Look at the World Fantasy Awards for Best Novel

There are often discussions online and in real life about the age of award winners. Be it the Hugo, the Nebula or other awards. Statements like “old people win the World Fantasy now, but that wasn’t true in the beginning” abound. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a single source of information to decide whether or not this statement is true.

This is the fifth of a series of posts that attempts to rectify this shocking situation. This week, we’ll be looking at the ages of nominees and winners for the World Fantasy Awards (WFA) for Best Novel. When we compared the Hugos and Nebulas for Best Novel, we saw quite a few differences between the two awards.

Before starting, a quick word about how these numbers were obtained. I looked for the year of birth of nominees and winners on Wikipedia, www.isfdb.org, and my trusty Nicholls and Clute Encycopedia of Science Fiction. I also spammed politely asked a number of people who kindly responded. To get people’s ages, I simply subtracted their year of birth from the year the Awards took place (yes I know, if someone’s birthday falls after the convention then they would have been a “year” youngerI will leave the obtention of more exact information as an exercise for the student.) Co-authors of a nominated work are counted separately. For multiple winners, the average age of both was used.

First we’ll look at the nominees. This graph plots the average age of nominees in red, the age of the oldest nominee in green and the age of the youngest in orange. Like previous graphs, the Silverberg Standard is still there.

If we do a linear regression on these numbers, we get the following equations:

Oldest nominee:
f(x) = 0.08x + 56.58
R2 = 0.01

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.16x + 31.34
R2 = 0.15

Average age:
f(x) = 0.21x + 40.9
R2 = 0.25

Interestingly enough, while the age of the oldest nominee is barely increasing, the age of the youngest nominee and the average age is going up.

Next, let’s compare the average age of nominees (red) and their median age (burgundy). The light grey area represents the age range of the nominees.

Linear regression on the median gives us:

f(x) = 0.34x + 37.26
R2 = 0.5

This is the highest value or R2 we’ve seen so far: 0.5. still not enough to show definitive correlation, but definitively sitting on the fence. Finally a look at the winners (dark blue). Again, the shaded area represents the age range of nominees.

Linear regression on the age of winners:

f(x) = 0.43x + 38.88
R2 = 0.15

Again the slope is pretty steep with a definite trend towards older winners as time goes on. We also see that last year’s winner was the youngest nominee, something that hadn’t happened in over 20 years and only 5 times in the history of the awards. Compare that to the oldest nominees winning a total of 10 times, 7 of which were between the last two times the youngest nominee won.

A few other bits of information:

Age of the oldest nominee was: 82
Age of the youngest nominee was: 27
Age of the oldest winner: 76
Age of the youngest winners: 27 (Patricia A. McKillip and John M. Ford, and the only under 30 winners)

So what can we conclude from all this?

There’s definitively some aging going on with the winners. How do the Hugo and Nebula winners compare to the WFA winners? In this graph, the WFA winners are in dark blue, the Nebula winners in light blue and the Hugo winners in purple.

Clearly, the Hugos are the odd man out. The trend lines for both the Nebulas and the WFA are almost exactly the same, both starting younger than the Hugo winners and getting older as time passes.

Now let’s look at the nominees, in this graph, the pink shaded area is the age range of the Hugo nominees, the blue shaded area is the age range of the Nebula nominees. Trend lines for the two awards are purple and blue respectively. The orange and green lines are for the youngest and oldest WFA nominees, respectively.

Like the winners, the curves for youngest nominee are pretty similar for the Nebula and the WFA. The big difference is in the age of the oldest nominee. For the Hugos, the trend is downwards, the opposite is true for the Nebulas and the WFA is in between with a very slight increase (a bit under three years over the history of the awards). This is surprising when seeing how the age of the WFA winners has been steadily increasing.

Overall, the numbers for the WFA are remarkably close to those for the Nebulas. This isn’t a huge surprise, after all, the Nebula voters are all writers and the juries for the WFA are almost always writers too. We come to the shocking conclusion that writers think like writers and fans think like fans. We’ll see next week if the same holds true for the Best Short Story category.

Note: I am missing the ages of six nominees (Edgar Fong, Brooke Stevens, Mark Sumner, Paula Volsky, John Marks and Kit Whitfield). This missing information may well drastically change the trends we’ve been looking at! (Oh dear!) If anyone has solid information on the year of their birth, or for any of the other people mentioned in the first post of this series, please contact me in private, either through my Tor.com shoutbox or via e-mail at [email protected]

René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, write reviews of francophone short fiction for The Portal, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.