A lot is being said about Austin no longer being the haven of weirdness it has prided itself on for the last several decades. But here at Book People we like to keep apprised of the weirdness situation in our much beloved town. Well, the fine folks over at Fifth Dimension Books are certainly doing their part! Sukyi and Patrick McMahon have opened a mobile book store specializing in science fiction, fantasy and fringe books – all used, and many rare or hard-to-find. I stopped by their most common parking spot, 43rd and Duval, to have a chat and check out what they had to offer. Being a sci-fi/fantasy fan myself I figured I would find a few things I’d like as well as meet some like minded individuals. Man, was I so right (kind of too right, actually, for I’m afraid my pocket book might need to be guarded from myself after this discovery).
Inside the truck, which could easily fit in with the myriad food trucks that now pepper Austin’s landscape, I was greeted by Sukyi herself, who was mid-conversation with a cyclist discussing the virtues of David Brin’s The Postman (which I believe he purchased shortly after). The first thing I noticed about the truck was how organized and inviting it was. Wooden bookshelves lined the sides from floor to ceiling and there was plenty of natural light from the front and rear windows in addition to the built in lighting. There were four people in the truck at the moment and it didn’t feel cramped at all. Browsing was easy and both Sukyi and Patrick were on hand with their infectious enthusiasm and pointed recommendations.
You may think the book mobile idea is a novel one, or just a logical extension of the food truck notion. But the truth is book mobiles have a long and fascinating history. Typically associated with libraries, book mobiles have been used to disseminate literature to the masses since the mid 1800s. The Fifth Dimension truck itself is originally a library book mobile from New Jersey. The McMahon’s purchased it on Craigslist, outfitted as is, and brought it down to Austin. Besides a few repairs they did on the shelves themselves it was already in great condition. The truck typically holds between 3500-5000 books at a time, and they restock fresh titles every month and “stop gap” fill it even more frequently, keeping the selection fresh at all times.
Where do all the books come from, you ask? The McMahon’s acquired their 100,000 books from the library of Dr. John Marx, former Chemistry professor at Texas Tech University. Dr. Marx was widely known for his love of science fiction and fantasy literature and amassed a collection over a span of 50 years that he shared with the world via Marx Books. Dr. Marx passed away in 2012 and his impressive collection has found its way to Austin via the McMahons and 5DBooks. The couple admits, “We thought we knew our sci-fi until we got this collection.” The McMahon’s honor his memory and consider him a member of their staff. “He’s always present,” says Sukyi, gesturing to the picture of John that sits prominently at the front and center of the truck. Patrick McMahon was a friend of the Marx family in Lubbock, Tx.
While the truck is more often than not located at 43rd and Duval, having become part of the community at the corner consisting of Hyde Park Grill, Mother’s Restaurant, Dolce Vita, Fresh Plus, and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, what would be the point of being in a truck if you didn’t take it somewhere? You can currently find them on 1st Fridays at In.gredients on E. Manor Rd. And come springtime they have a whole host of events that are sure to entice – book swaps and story times among them, and eventually some local author events as well. Check out their calendar to keep apprised of their location!
Finally, a few words about the selection. Everything falls in the science fiction, fantasy and fringe genres. All the books are used and mostly 50% off cover price. But there is an excellent selection of collectibles and signed editions as well. A Frank Herbert Dune Messiah immediately stood out to me, as well as the H.P. Lovecraft “inspired collaboration” with August Derleth, a book that has a bit of a controversial background, which Patrick happily apprised me of. And that’s another thing, these guys know their stuff, and their love of it is both immediately apparent and very infectious. On top of that, every once in a while they feature a new section of books. For example, right now the front left bay in the truck features TV/Movie tie in books. February may have a Black History selection (this inspired a conversation about diversity in sci-fi during which I was instructed to absolutely read some Octavia Butler, like, right away), and Sukyi has even more ideas about featuring titles that people might otherwise not have heard about. The collection even boasts the ability to fill an international sci-fi niche. “Not everyone has a Chinese sci-fi anthology but we do,” says Patrick. They’ve got sci-fi from all over the world. Have a hole in your life only a Russian sci-fi author can fill? Fifth Dimension books has you covered.
So, book lovers, get on over to the latest addition to the Austin literary scene and show the McMahon’s some good ole’ weird Austin love. We are so happy they are here, and I personally can’t wait to get seriously schooled on these genres that I love but am, apparently, woefully undereducated about!
And learn more about them at their website HERE!