Wed
Jun 15 2011 10:25am

It Takes a Long Time To Become Young: A Statistical Look at the Nebula Awards For Best Novel

There are often discussions online and in real life about the age of SF award winners, be it the Hugo, the Nebula, or other awards. Statements like “old people win the awards 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 third 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 Nebula for Best Novel. When we looked at the Hugos for Best Novel, we didn’t find a single winner under thirty.

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. To get people’s ages, I simply substracted their year of birth from the year the convention took place (yes I know, if someone’s birthday fall’s 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 ties, the average age of both authors was used. Also note that the years of Nebulas refers to the year the works were published whereas the years of Hugos refer to the year the award was given out. I have made the necessary adjustments to allow us to compare apples to apples.

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) = 0.39x + 50.96
R2 = 0.24

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.22x + 29.3
R2 = 0.34

Average age:
f(x) = 0.29x + 39.36
R2 = 0.4

Wow! Those slopes are not only positive, they’re pretty steep, I’m glad I’m not climbing them. Looks like there’s definitively a difference between the writers of works chosen for the Nebulas and those chosen for the Hugos.

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) = 0.31x + 37.72
R2 = 0.3

Again, we have a pretty steep slope. 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) = 0.44x + 35.89
R2 = 0.23

We’ve found them! The mythical under thirty winners are here! Twice Samuel R. Delany and once Alexei Panshin. All of them won the Nebula in the sixties. Again the slope is fairly steep, in fact it’s the steepest one we’ve seen so far.

In all these cases, R2 is higher than what we’ve seen previously, but still does not show significant correlation, which means it’s still pretty much impossible to predict the age of the nominees and winners based on the year they won.

A few other bits of information:

Age of the oldest nominee was: 83
Age of the youngest nominee was: 25
Age of the oldest winner: 80
Age of the youngest winner: 25 (Samuel Delaney, it doesn’t show up on the graph because he tied with Daniel Keyes and their average age plots as 32.5

So what can we conclude from all this?

There’s definitively some aging going on in both the nominees and the winners. But how do the Nebula winners compare to the Hugo winners?

Nebulas winners for this category started off younger than Hugo winners. In the first decade of the awards, only once was the winner of the Nebula older than the Hugo winner for Best Novel, whereas in the past decade, none of the Nebula winners were younger than the Hugo winners. In both decades, several times, the winners were the same age, this is probably due to the same book winning both awards. The steep slopes of the regressions both for nominees and winners also show this trend.

Looking at the nominees we see some interesting trends. In this graph, the shaded area is the age range of the Hugo nominees, the blue lines are the trend lines for the oldest and youngest Hugo nominees. Yellow and Green lines are for the youngest and oldest Nebula nominees, respectively.

We can see that the curves for youngest nominee are pretty similar for both awards, so SFWA members are not ignoring new writers, or if they are, it’s not to a greater extent than the Hugo nominators. The big difference is in the age of the oldest nominee, for the Hugos, the trend is downwards, while the opposite is true for the Nebulas. Is it because Hugo nominators ignore important books by older writers? Or because SFWA members pay more attention to them? Hard to say. My guess is it’s probably a combination of things, after all, every nominator for both awards will have his or her reasons to choose the works they choose.

There is definitively a difference between the two awards. I don’t know the why of it and I would be interested to see if the age of SFWA members has also followed a similar trend.

I will also be interesting to see if a similar difference exists between the Hugos and Nebulas for Best Short Story. And that’s what we’ll do next week.

Note: I should mention I am missing the age of one nominee (Hayden Howard). 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 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I’d also like to thank all the writers who took a few minutes from their busy schedules to contact me about this over the past two weeks.


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.

1 comment
br27
1. br27
This series of posts has been enjoyable, but it seems like several fundamental variables are being ignored so far.

Has the average age of SF authors changed over the years? The US population in general is aging. If more works by older authors are published, then the awards should follow suit. Also, this would impact the Nebula voter demographics. Without knowing if the average author age is increasing, it seems meaningless to wonder about award winners getting older. Similarly, has the average age of voting SF readers changed over the years? Changing demographics in the audeience would impact preferences and Hugo voting.

I'd like to see comparisons of the average age in the US and the average author age to these changing award winner ages. That would provide a meaningful measure of the change.

Other issues that can't be quantified include how the market has changed in terms of what works get published. The need for financial success could influence publishers and editors to favor different works than used to be published. Is that helping older authors win more?

Also, have the voters changed their expectations over the years due to experience with previous works? Things that used to impress people no longer do. Things that used to be innovative no longer are. Would older winning works still win today, even if modernized?

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