A Statistical Look at the Nebula Awards For Best Short Story

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 Nebulas 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 fourth 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 Short Story. When we looked at the Nebulas for Best Novel, we noticed a definite aging in the age of nominees and winners. When we looked at the Hugos for Best Short Story, we saw that at first, nominees and winners were younger than for the Best Novel category, but they eventually got older.

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 substracted their year of birth from the year the Awards 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 winners, the average age of both winners 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.

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) = 0.38x + 48.1
R2 = 0.17

Youngest nominee:
f(x) = 0.2x + 28.22
R2 = 0.23

Average age:
f(x) = 0.29x + 36.9
R2 = 0.34

Like last week, those slopes are not only positive, they’re pretty steep. And again, it 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 + 35.51
R2 = 0.33

Again, we have a pretty steep slope. Finally a look at the winners (dark blue).

Linear regression on the age of winners:

f(x) = 0.48x + 35.99
R2 = 0.23

In all these cases, R2 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: 85
Age of the youngest nominee was: 23
Age of the oldest winner: 85
Age of the youngest winner: 26 (Chip Delany! Yet again! At this point, I’m convinced he’s the source of all these rumors about all those under 30 winners)

How does this compare with the winners of the Best Novel category? In this next graph, the dark blue line is for Best Short Story and the light blue line is for the Best Novel category.

Well, it seems the short story writers age a little more than the novel writers. You may recall we saw a similar difference between the two categories in the Hugo Awards.

Speaking of Hugos, how do the Nebula nominees for this category compare to the Hugo nominees? In this graph, the light blue line represents the Best Short Story Hugo winners

As we saw in the Best Novel Category, Nebula winners for this category started off younger than Hugo winners but aged considerably faster. Also note that in the past decade, only twice was the Nebula winner younger than the Hugo winner. Things were a bit more balanced before that.

Two weeks ago, when we looked at the Hugo for Best Short Story, we saw some interesting trends develop in the last two decades: the average age of winners was trending down. Does the same thing happen with the Nebulas?

Well, no, in fact rather than going down, the age of winners is trending up by a year every year, with the regrassion curve paralleling the Silverberg Standard almost exactly (it’s got a slope of 1.02). Even more surprising is that the age of the oldest nominees is increasing even faster! The linear regression on that data gives us:

f(x) = 1.21x + 47.18
R2 = 0.39

Meanwhile, the age of the youngest nominees is trending downwards, so new writers are still being recognized. There are also three nominees under 30 in the past decade, something this category had not seen since the 70s. On the other hand, the oldest nominees won seven times, while the youngest only won twice. Also, no winner under 50 has been seen since 2001.

Well. We’ve certainly seen big differences between the Hugos and the Nebulas in the two categories we looked at. Next week we’ll be looking at the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. What have the juries decided?

Note: I should mention I am missing the ages of eleven nominees (Mary C. Aldridge, Jane Beauclerk, James A. Durham, Alex Kirs, Larry McCombs, Bridget McKenna, Scott Nichols, Richard Olin, P.J. Plauger, Robert Rohrer, and Frances Sherwood)–seven of these are for 1965, which had 28(!) nominees. This missing information may well drastically change the trends we’ve been looking at! 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] 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 few 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.


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