WMF Photo Contest Part XIII: Grand Prize Winners

Today we bring you the final part of the photo contest.

Those of you who were around for the beginning of this might remember that I extended our deadline because some people said they were trying to get permission from the FAA for what they were trying to do.

So really, it’s their fault that I haven’t finished the photo contest yet. If I’d had those two weeks, we would’ve finished the photo contest in a timely fashion.

I joke, I joke. And even if it was the truth and their small delay somehow *had* somehow cascaded into this longer one. I honestly think it would be worth it….

You know what? I’m not even going to be coy here. I’m going to skip the preamble and jump right to the end. I’m going to show you the goods.

Here’s what they did:


This is my book. In space.

It’s. In. Space.

Look at that. It’s so high up that you can see a slight curvature of the earth. And my book.

So there. You know the end. But I’m guessing you’re going to stick around for the preamble anyway. Because you’re my readers. You know the journey is the worthier part…

*     *     *

Three folks from MIT collaborated to make this happen. Jay, Kristyn, and Mike. (With a strong assist from their friend Malcolm, who let them use his book.)

Their photo shoot started at 5am on a Saturday.


They got a serious weather balloon, and started setup.


IMG_0126 copy

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Realize that these photos were taken in 2011. Four years ago. Digital cameras weren’t *quite* as pervasive then, and neither were superphones.

So they hacked an old camera to take pictures every 5 seconds, attached a phone that sent out a GPS signal every 30 seconds, and wrapped everything up in Styrofoam for protection during the flight.

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But they didn’t stop at getting a cool view of the city.

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You see how the clouds in the sky make the same ripple effect that wind makes on the waves? You see how that is the same ripple effect you see in the sand on the beach?

You know what that is? That is the name of the wind writ large across the face of the world, my friends.

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Hello you great, blue beautiful thing….


It’s almost perfect. It just needs a little something….


There we go. Fucking rainbow. Done.

For those of you who are into numbers, the balloon went up at around 500 ft/min and reached approximately 75,000 feet.

So… yeah. My book has been into space. I’m *so* going to give John Scalzi a hard time about this the next time I see him…

Hold on. It only now occurs to me. Commercial planes don’t fly that high. And I doubt very much that anyone takes novels on rockets due to weight limitations….

That means The Wise Man’s Fear has probably set some sort of weird record. I’d bet a modest amount of money that it might be the first novel in the stratosphere. If not, maybe first hardcover novel. Or.. maybe… First Hardcover Fantasy Novel to Reach Stratosphere Via Balloon?

Does anyone know how to get in touch with Guinness?

You know what? It doesn’t even matter to me. The fact that someone did this with my book is cooler to me than I can express in words. (And when you read that, please consider who is writing it.)

So thank you, you excellent people.

Thank you, you shiny geeks.

Thank you.

*     *     *

I hope it’s obvious that this isn’t something the three of them just banged together in an afternoon. They made plans. Coordinated with the FAA. Make a test run…

Here’s a piece of the story that Mike sent along:

“During Jay’s practice flight he sent up the camera and when it came back down it landed in a wooded area, so he climbed through a bit of woods only to find it stuck about 40 feet up a tree, with not much remaining daylight he had to leave the camera up in the tree.

The next morning I went down with him to see how we were going to retrieve the camera and we stopped by Home Depot to pick up supplies. Jay went to get some pipe while I set about getting rope and duct tape. Turns out asking a clerk before he’s had his morning coffee what aisles rope and duct tape would be in will get you a raised eyebrow. Then trying to explain the situation away before you’ve had your morning coffee doesn’t alleviate his concern.

It ended up taking us the better part of the day throwing sticks, stones, lassos, trying to knock it from the tree with a 40’ pipe before it finally fell. Our triumph lasted long enough to find out the data was corrupted and “tech experts” were only able to recover the first 10 – 20k feet of the flight.”

Of the actual flight, they said this:

“One of the fun things about this project is the fact that you lose control of the balloon’s flight path the moment you let go of it. You can use weather radar and predictive models and they really mean absolutely nothing.  Once the balloon reaches a certain altitude the gps we were using stopped working, but we could track it once it dropped back below that altitude.  So for a couple hours we had nothing to do except find a local diner eat breakfast and wait(my favorite weekend activity).  The predictive model we used suggested the book would travel over 50 miles and land up near Marlborough, Massachusetts about 25 miles from the ocean.

So after breakfast we started driving that way to at least be in the general area.  We kept checking the GPS and eventually it resurfaced(not sure if thats the right word considering the book was coming back down) about 75 miles south of Marlborough and  less than 3 miles from the Atlantic.  So we turned the car around to drive toward the balloon.”

There you go. While it’s safe to say that I loved the thousands of pictures y’all sent in for the photo contest, there’s no denying that these guys went the extra mile.

I think it goes without saying that these guys deserve their gold talent pipes. My heart is full of joy when I look at these pictures. I am awash in the glow of their reflected cool.

Gold Pipes

Because they went above and beyond *ahem* I’ll also be sending them some signed books (And a special copy for their friend who gave up his own copy for the cause) and any other swag their hearts might desire.

What’s more, if y’all are interested, next time I’m out in Boston I’d love to take y’all out to dinner. If you’re free, you can pick the place and it’s my treat. I also offer post-prandial libations and board games at a venue of choice.

Because honestly? You guys are people I want to hang out with. You’re my kind of crazy.

* * *

With that, the Photo Contest is finally a wrap. While I enjoyed it, you guys have no idea how nice it is to finally have the weight of it off my neck. I feel positively bubbly having expiated that particular long-term shame.

Lastly, because I’ve been focusing on getting the photo contest finished. There are a few quick announcements I should make.

1. Worldbuilders will be doing its second-annual mid-season fundraiser at the beginning of June.

Last year it went amazingly well, and we raised more than $200,000 for charity. So this year we’re doing it again. Bigger and better.

2. We’re launching a new t-shirt or two along with that fundraiser.

To that purpose, we’re going to have a quick t-shirt design contest. And I *do* mean quick. We’re launching it on Monday, and the window for submissions will only last for seven days. (Though if you’re reading this you can have a couple day’s head start.)

After a week is up, we’ll ask y’all to vote on which ones you like best and they’ll go up in the IndieGoGo.

 3. This afternoon, I’m going to be participating in the Twitter Fiction Festival.

I’m going to be writing a story on twitter. It’s going to be a bizarre melange of improvisational storytelling, old-school text adventure games, and raw caffeinated madness. You’ll control the character through suggesting the character’s actions. I’ll control the story by choosing which suggestions we use, and giving replies.

It’s going to be a glorious experiment that I expect will explode in a huge roiling ball of narrative flame.

I’ll be doing that from 3-4pm CT today. If you want to check it out, or participate, my twitter is right here.

See you later, space cowboys…


This entry was posted in Achievement Unlocked!, being awesome, fan coolness, Photo Contest 2011. By Pat29 Responses


  1. Posted May 15, 2015 at 1:54 AM | Permalink

    That is the coolest thing ever. I agree with you. The best kind of crazy.

    • Posted May 15, 2015 at 2:00 AM | Permalink

      My readers are the best readers ever. And I will engage in fisticuffs with anyone who dares imply otherwise.

      • Orynae
        Posted May 15, 2015 at 2:29 AM | Permalink

        Fisticuffs is a fun word to say.

        • Mitchell Hundred
          Posted May 15, 2015 at 6:54 AM | Permalink

          But not, I submit, as fun as “Zwingli”. Or “Haligonians”.

          Unfortunately, life presents one with far fewer excuses to say them.

        • Posted May 16, 2015 at 10:12 AM | Permalink

          Makes me think of a bunch of Jigglypuffs punching people randomly…

    • julieanngrasso
      Posted May 15, 2015 at 5:14 PM | Permalink

      Russ, your face is the best kind of crazy.

  2. TheManiacWoodpecker
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 3:21 AM | Permalink

    Wow such awesomeness. I hope you have a great time together!

  3. Marcus Cox
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 6:24 AM | Permalink

    “While it’s safe to say that I loved the thousands of pictures y’all sent in for the photo contest, there’s no denying that these guys went the extra mile.”

    I’d argue they went the extra 14sih miles.

  4. Holmelund
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 6:47 AM | Permalink

    1. Words escape me as well. Awesome all of sudden seem like a to small word.
    2. PLEASE, with marcipan coating, make another Princess and MR. Whiffle T-Shirt with another twisted motive.
    My 4 year old daughter love the one I have. Her fist sentence when she saw it was: “Daddy, she doesnt have enough bricks”
    It wasnt untill her fifth or sixt sentence that she asked why the frog was being boarded up behind bricks. Not sure if I should be worried really ;)

  5. Mitchell Hundred
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 6:57 AM | Permalink

    I’ll just post the obligatory link to this.

    Well, somebody was going to do it.

  6. Kimberlyand
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 7:20 AM | Permalink

    That was unbelievable!!!

  7. Carlos Garrido
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 7:37 AM | Permalink

    GLaDOS space core aproves.

  8. khil1
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 7:50 AM | Permalink

    Truly that is a Grand, prize winner! And they prizes are pretty awesome too. (even if its your blatant attempt to get fans to send YOU to space next)

    I really really want to this to become a thing between you and Scalzi, each of your fans escalating from here.

  9. iopgod
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 7:53 AM | Permalink


    (An extra 14.2 miles, pretty much straight upwards!)

  10. dcashd
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 9:22 AM | Permalink

    You may be correct about it being the first hardcover book in space. It costs 10000$ to put a pound into orbit. So unless some astronaut loves a book 30000$ worth…

  11. Hendrik
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 9:23 AM | Permalink

    While I totally missed the opportunity of even taking part in this marvellous contest myself, I daresay that I would have failed. Badly.
    The effort displayed here over the last few days and especially for today’s Grand Prize is so positively flabbergasting, that I just had to register and post this very insignificant comment of mine.

    What (today) hooked me most however was Pat’s “You know what that is? That is the name of the wind writ large across the face of the world, my friends.”-line.

    So, on self-appointed behalf of some usually-just-blog-lurkers, let me say “Thank You for the ride!” :)

  12. Maalkoth
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Permalink

    This was universe being absolutely perfect to the point where I cried at the beauty. Thank you P-Roth, thank you friends. Deep shuddering breath. Just. Thank you. =) Also, can i come to dinner? How do you all feel about renaissance faires?

    • Posted May 15, 2015 at 11:05 PM | Permalink

      I am an avid faerie supporter, no matter what time period they might be based in…

  13. ability
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 12:35 PM | Permalink

    btw that was beyond awesome wanna do somth like that myself :D

  14. ImLittleJon
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 1:13 PM | Permalink

    Regarding the t-shirt design contest, would it be too expensive to put the grand prize winning picture on a shirt?

    • Posted May 15, 2015 at 11:06 PM | Permalink

      Photos don’t work very well. And even if they did, I don’t know if that would have much universal appeal…

  15. huchamabacha
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 2:30 PM | Permalink

    Hate to break it to you, but while your book probably can claim the title “First Hardcover Fantasy Novel to Reach Stratosphere Via Balloon”
    it’s not the first novel to make it to space, since you can see here that there is actually a small library on the International Space Station! Granted those could all be paperbacks, so yours could be the first hardcover book in space.

    • huchamabacha
      Posted May 15, 2015 at 2:34 PM | Permalink

      However, that is an amazing picture, and kudos to the winning team for getting permission to do that beforehand!

      • Posted May 15, 2015 at 11:09 PM | Permalink

        Wow. I’m pleasantly surprised.

        It would be cool to have been the first. But I’m glad there is a library in space….

    • loki117
      Posted May 16, 2015 at 11:39 PM | Permalink

      Dear, huchamabacha
      I would have called you a party pooper for sharing that information if you have not added that very interesting list of books that astronauts have read, I review it and only 20 books from that list are in my mind so thank you for sharing a very good list of books because if they are in space, then I’m sure they must be really good otherwise we wouldn’t have that beautiful picture. so I’ll start reading from that list, while waiting for Mr. Pat to deliver day three :)

  16. christie
    Posted May 15, 2015 at 3:34 PM | Permalink

    The last photo contest blog!

    That was followed by the mention of an upcoming t-shirts contest meshed in my mind … and my first thought was maybe you could put the picture of your book in space on a shirt just for you. A caption could be:

    “My book went to space and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”

  17. PostaKiwi
    Posted May 18, 2015 at 1:44 AM | Permalink

    Worth the wait!!!! This is awesome!!!

  18. JoePerri
    Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:58 PM | Permalink

    Very cool pic! You have such fun ideas that bear awesome fruit like this.

    As to a record, probably not. An Astronaut on Apollo 14 brought several copies of the Bible to the surface of the moon. They were on microfilm but I think that still counts. Depending on your views, the Bible might also count as a fantasy novel as well…

  19. CheshireSloth
    Posted June 9, 2015 at 10:41 PM | Permalink

    You have a huge number of fans here at MIT! I’m sure if you visited you would be swarmed. Please stop by!

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