Locus Online to Host All-Time Best Polls in November – Updated 27 Oct

Locus Online will host a set of all-time best polls, covering both novels and short fiction, beginning November 1st, for one month. These will be the first such polls hosted by Locus since 1998; earlier polls were run in 1975 and 1987. This time we’ll do two all-century polls, for 20th century works (1901 – 2000) and 21st century works so far (2001- just to 2010), with five categories in each set:

SF novel
Fantasy novel
novella
novelette
short story

That’s the current plan. We split the centuries to avoid pitting relatively recent works against more established works, just as the 1998 polls were limited to works published before 1990. (And, incidentally, it will be interesting to see how our 21st century poll compares to the Tor.com poll last year, which covered 11 years 2000-2010.)

The 20th century categories will allow 10 votes per category, rather than the usual 5. Points will be awarded in a sliding scale analogous to the traditional “Carr” system for ranking five items in a category (worth 8 points down to 4 points); in 10 item categories, 1st place will be worth 18 points, 10th place 9 points, so that a 1st place vote is still worth twice as much as a 10th place vote, and not 10 times as much.

As always with Locus polls, the ballots will be seeded with candidate options, partly to remind voters of works they might otherwise not consider, and partly to make the tallying easier to the extent that those options are used. But write-ins will certainly be allowed, as always. This is one reason we’re announcing the polls in advance: if you don’t want to be influenced by the candidate options, put on your thinking caps *now*, and start planning what to vote for. You will have lots of choices: again, you will be able to vote for 5 items in each of the 5 21st century categories, and 10 items in each of the 20th century categories, a total of 75.

These plans aren’t set in stone, so suggestions for how the polling might be done differently or better will be considered. But we’re working to have these online by November 1st, with a target for postings results by mid-December.

Finally — Karen Burnham has been busy moving house and finishing a book; she should be resuming normal Roundtable operations (perhaps even with some discussion of all-time polling!) soon.

UPDATE 27 Oct: In response to Roundtable feedback, these polls will *not* ‘seed’ the ballot with suggestions or dropdowns of any kind. Instead, the ballot will have 75 empty slots for you to fill in. We will however provide what are best called ‘reference lists’, or memory-jogger lists, of notable novels and stories that are eligible in the various categories. These will be in no way based on Locus recommended reading lists or any other vetting by Locus editors; they will be compiled as-objectively-as-possible from lists of award winners and nominees, from reference books of notable novels, from indexes of stories most frequently reprinted, and so on. There’s actually an advantage to posting these lists separately, rather than ‘seeding’ them on the ballot in any way; they can be much longer, and therefore more comprehensive (e.g. 1000 suggestions for 20th century novels). More details when these lists are posted.

Other issues: There will be no subscriber vs. non-subscriber weighting. (We might ask about subscriber status just to do some post-survey analysis.) For this poll, we want votes for individual novels, or rarely single works that span multiple volumes (like The Lord of the Rings), but not ‘series’ votes. We may do a separate poll later for series, as well as for collections, anthologies, favorite writer per se, and on and on (what other categories would anyone suggest?), depending on how this set of polls goes. As a site, rather than a magazine, we can set up, execute, and tally results of such polls relatively quickly, compared to the print magazine and poll ballots sent in by mail. And we might well do so a couple times a year, if we can think of enough interesting categories or topics to support such polls…

Still plan to have ballot (and reference lists) posted November 1st.

26 thoughts on “Locus Online to Host All-Time Best Polls in November – Updated 27 Oct

  • October 22, 2012 at 5:49 am
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    This is exciting. I love these polls – I always find more great stuff to read. And I love expressing my opinions!

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  • October 22, 2012 at 11:05 am
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    I really wish that Locus would stop with the seeding and with the weighting of votes. It turns what would have been a really interesting popular ballot into a stilted exercise in Reading List validation.

    Are you really so afraid that the great unwashed of the internet will drive a coach and horses through your clubhouse?

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  • October 22, 2012 at 11:17 am
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    “As always with Locus polls, the ballots will be seeded with candidate options”

    Please consider not doing this. If you want to poll the best books from the list of those recommended by Locus, then do that, and if you want to poll the best books as held by the field at large, then do that. Those are both interesting questions, but mixing them together means we won’t get a clear answer to either of them.

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  • October 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm
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    I’m intrigued…though my SF / fantasy reading of late has fallen off, I still feel “up” on most of the 20th century literature. I’ll give it a shot.

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  • October 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm
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    Mm, well, perhaps. It’s true that the earlier Locus all-time polls were done (manually, via paper ballots) without seed lists. But those polls were seen only by subscribers. Open polls can end up like Modern Library’s Reader’s List (right column), dominated by Ayn Rand, L. Ron Hubbard, and (of all people) Charles de Lint.

    The seed lists, which I’m putting together myself, are intended to remind voters of options for voting they may not have thought of. They are not books or stories “recommended by Locus”, but lists of titles which historically have performed well – via awards, expert books, frequent reprints, etc.; in effect, that have been ‘nominated’ by past performance.

    Still, I understand the criticism of Locus polls on these grounds. Would it be as troublesome if these lists were posted on separate pages, and not built into the poll ballot? (That would certainly make the ballot easier to set up.) The lists are reasonably objective, or try to be, constrained mostly by length…

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  • October 22, 2012 at 7:25 pm
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    I do have a suggestion about this. I would like to see a category for Collection, as well. There are excellent SF writers whose best work is with the short form – most notably Harlan Ellison. And, to my mind, Roger Zelazny, Nancy Kress and others. Any chance?

    As to the seed lists- I have no problem with them, I welcome it, in fact as it will again give me more great fiction to read – but I agree with putting them on separate pages so as not to suggest that these are the only ones we should vote for. That’s my opinion.

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  • October 23, 2012 at 10:19 am
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    Mark —

    “They are not books or stories “recommended by Locus”, but lists of titles which historically have performed well – via awards, expert books, frequent reprints, etc.; in effect, that have been ‘nominated’ by past performance.”

    So you will be leaning heavily on the Locus Recommended Reading list then?

    I am really quite depressed by the on-going wrong-headedness of the Locus polls. You seem to be absolutely terrified that the great unwashed of the internet will storm your precious clubhouse and usurp your great democratic institutions by daring to vote.

    The Locus readers’ polls have precisely ZERO credibility because you not only skew the voting, you also skew the ballot by ‘seeding’ certain books. By keeping these undemocratic processes in place, you are not only wasting your time, you are also wasting an opportunity to take the field’s pulse and generate a really interesting set of data.

    Why even bother to have these so-called polls if you’re not going to make them properly democratic? All you’re doing is confirming Locus’s image as a magazine that is out-of-touch, self-satisfied and elitist.

    Grow up.

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  • October 23, 2012 at 11:31 am
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    The poll will be on individual books, but do you have a policy in place for books in series?

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  • October 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm
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    “So you will be leaning heavily on the Locus Recommended Reading list then?” No. They have nothing to do with the Locus recommended reading lists How many times do I have to say it?

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  • October 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm
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    OK, sounds valuable. Is the poll limited to subscribers or can any SF fan join in?

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  • October 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm
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    We will all vote with our biases and our knowledge. I welcome everyone’s input, but giving us a list on separate pages allows us to read things that have been highly acclaimed a chance to “catch up” as it were and really vote with knowledge. So, those who just started reading this genre or have read only certain types of story can try others. I welcome the seed lists and the outcome in order to expand my reading – not validate my own. But I have a vote and that makes me happy to express.

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  • October 24, 2012 at 4:36 am
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    Niall, and Jonathan M:

    OK, let me try again. I’ll agree, in response to your comments and feedback from the Locus overlords, not to ‘seed’ the ballot. The ballot will provide 75 empty slots, for the categories previously described, with no drop-downs or candidate options. This has two advantages over my original plan: the ballot will be much easier to set up, and the ‘reference lists’ can be much longer than I would have installed as candidates or drop-downs on the ballot itself….

    So: I would still like to provide, let’s call them, ‘reference lists’. I’m thinking that, if I were challenged with voting in these all-century polls, how would I decide what to vote for? I might look up lists of Hugo and Nebula winners and scan them; I might pull out (for short fiction) anthologies and collections and scan their contents; for novels I might simply scan my bookshelves. Or perhaps even just rely on memory. Fine. But I don’t think it biases the votes to provide reference lists of ‘memory-joggers’, compiled like this —

    Suppose, for short fiction, I compile a list of all the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Award, and various other award, winners. Then, let’s add in any titles nominated for at least 2 awards, even if they didn’t win. Then, let’s add in any titles reprinted in at least [X] number of anthologies, thinking that anthology editors are independent, relatively knowledgeable, ‘judges’ of which stories are better than other stories. To present such a composite list presumes that the votes in these all-century poll votes will most likely go to stories and novels that have already been identified, one way or another, by these previous judgements, and that this list will serve as a memory-jogger more than a list of constraints; I don’t think this presumption in any way ‘stacks the deck’ in favor of titles approved by evil Locus overlords.

    The value of X, and the number of awards considered, that are included in this calculation, greatly affects the results. For example: here’s a short fiction list generated with these parameters: more than 3 award nominations/wins, more than X=10 anthology/collection reprints, and published after 1899. Please forgive the crude html. (A secondary function of such a list is to suggest which category — novella/novelette/short story — any given short fiction title should be voted in.) I can think of several ways this list’s parameters can be refined, but I hope you get the idea.

    For novels, the supplement to awards would be citations in reference books. All these data I have because I have reverse-engineered Bill Contento’s Locus Index to Science Fiction, and his Magazine Index, into an Access database, which I can query and tally, to see which stories have been reprinted in how many and what type of anthologies and collections. I have compiled awards data on my own. And I have compiled citations of books, in references like David Pringle’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels and its many successors, books of significant titles in the field like Neil Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder, as well as various ‘all-time’ polls published over the years, within and without of the SF field, over the past decade. Statistics about these data will eventually become part of my new site, sfadb.com, whose mission is in part to supplement awards data with additional data to better represent the history of SF/F than is indicated by lists of award winners.

    So the main reason for hosting these current all-century polls is to solicit a current, independent, take on the best novels and short fiction of all time, without being influenced by previous results, including those statistics I plan to post on sfadb.com; another is simply that Locus has received a steady trickle of reader requests in recent years to host another such all-time poll. The last thing I want to do is bias such votes in any way. Again, again, please note that the ‘reference lists’ I propose posting have *nothing* to do with Locus recommended reading lists, or titles pre-approved by Locus boffins. They are intended to be as objective a set of ‘memory-jogger’ suggestions as possible.

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  • October 24, 2012 at 9:29 am
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    Mark — thanks for taking this on board! I’m in favour of a broadly-drawn list of works as reference, just not as part of the ballot itself.

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  • October 24, 2012 at 10:49 am
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    Hi Mark — I’m delighted to see some movement on this issue. As you say, a proper accounting of which works people considered great would be a really useful data-point for discussions about the direction the field is headed in. It would have been a real shame to undermine that data through undue skewing 🙂

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  • October 25, 2012 at 9:22 am
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    Mark – I have been looking forward to a new Locus “all-time” poll for awhile. Thank you for getting it organized!

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  • October 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm
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    I don’t mind the idea of seeding with candidate options – you’re always free to ignore suggestions. But it might help prevent this poll from being next to worthless, like the recent NPR poll was.

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  • October 25, 2012 at 11:45 pm
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    Very exciting!

    And about time, too. It will be fascinating to see what works come to the for that weren’t recognized in previous polls. I’m one of those nerdy guys who love lists like these, and have often browsed through the older polls on Mark’s superb database. Now let’s see … I’d better start pencilling out my own lists. Hmmmmm …

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  • October 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm
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    Well handled, Mark

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  • October 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm
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    For shorter works there needs to be a consensus on what word count goes with which category. On my site I have a page of all Hugo and Nebula nominees and winners, and I notice that there are a few stories in the novella category for one award but for novelette in the other. Most of those are in the 60s and 70s with more consistency since then, but still…

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  • October 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm
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    The short fiction should be categorized according to the modern categories which have been applied consistently since 1966 for the Nebulas and 1973 for the Hugos. The categories in which stories originally won awards are of no consequence. The early Hugos for short fiction were often given in category designations such as “short story” or “novelette” which no longer correspond to the word counts currently associated with those categories.
    I’m hoping that Mark’s reference lists provide the story categories. I don’t need them myself, because for years I’ve been compiling spreadsheets of the major awards and nominees and the contents of nearly all the Year’s Best anthologies. So for the awards, I have the award categories as well as the actual length categories. It’s been a labor of love, but this is where it actually becomes useful.

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  • October 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm
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    To add to the above: Galen Strickland is of course right. There have been category inconsistencies even after the Hugos and the Nebulas both settled on the same categories. We should “correct” these inconsistencies for the purposes of the poll. Length categories are generally given in the Locus Index and its predecessor, the Contento Index, for the undustrious among us.

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  • October 30, 2012 at 5:31 pm
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    Er, that’s industrious … 🙂

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  • November 5, 2012 at 5:54 am
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    I want to vote but I feel that it is not fair for me to do so without having read a significant portion of the science fiction / fantasy stories written in the twentieth / twenty fist centuries. I have not. I can only judge among those that I have read. Is this just? Does my opinion even matter? Will anybody ever read this? If they do, will they care? If they care…

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  • November 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm
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    OK, Gary – somebody is listening, and does care 🙂

    I have the same problem as you, and I’ll tell you what my approach is.

    I am a very unusual reader of SF, since I love short SF, and almost never read novels. For most readers, it’s the other way round. My short fiction ballots are strong; my novel lists conspicuously less so.

    In fact, I can’t even find 10 fantasy novels that I read and liked in the 20th century fantasy novel list, or 5 in the corresponding 21st century list. So I’m going to do this:

    I’m going to fill out the ballot as far as I can with books I both read and liked. Leave blank spaces at the bottom if you haven’t read enough. Ignore – I repeat, ignore – the fact that there are scores of books that are probably better than your choices, that you can’t consider because you haven’t read them. For each item on the list, ask yourself only one question: is it worthy of a place in the top 10 or top 5? In other words, if you allow for subjectivity and diversity in reading taste, would you be surprised to see this book make the top 10? If not, put it in.

    Leave out a book that you’ve read only if your inner critic tells you it isn’t good enough to be a contender. For example, I’m a stone Ray Bradbury fan, and I read his 2006 novel Farewell Summer, which qualifies as fantasy. But I’m not putting it on my 21st century fantasy novel list, because I honestly don’t think it’s good enough. So that list is going to have only 3 – possibly only 2 – items.

    In short: put the books you read and liked on your ballot. Then remove the ones that you don’t think are worthy. Then vote, even if you don’t have a full 10 items 🙂

    Reply
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