Tucked away in the office of the Warwick Public Library’s new director is a “special collection” which is truly out-of-this-world.
“I have Star Trek posters and comic books signed by the cast, memorabilia from all the different series, illuminated blueprints of the Starship Enterprise, life-size cutouts of Captains Kirk and Picard… and then there’s my tree,” said Aaron Coutu, standing beside an artificial spruce with boughs sagging under the weight of tiny Starfleet, Federation, and Romulan ships.
Coutu recently disembarked from a much larger ship – Royal Caribbean’s thousand foot Navigator of the Seas. The vessel hosted the sixth installment of Star Trek: The Cruise at the end of February.
“This was the second Star Trek cruise I’ve attended,” he said. “The whole week is an amazing experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to next year.”
A native of Coventry, Coutu was named library director back in July, having previously served as the Assistant Director of the Cumberland Public Library. He remains involved with the Other Worlds Book Club which he started there.
“We alternate every week between science-fiction and fantasy novels,” he explained. “I’m interested in getting something similar started here, but we already have so many reading groups in Warwick that it’s tough to schedule a new one without creating conflicts. Our Cumberlan group is open to anyone interested, however.”
Coutu – who goes by “Trekbrarian” on Twitter – says that fantastic literature is not merely a means of escapism.
“Science fiction, by its nature, gives readers a unique way to reflect on our own society,” he said. “It lets readers explore problems that exist in our own world, but in a context that often makes them feel less threatening. Star Trek itself has always had a reputation for promoting diversity, especially through the relationships depicted onscreen.”
For recent sci-fi reads available at the Warwick Public Library, Coutu recommends NK Jemison’s The City We Became, which offers a modern spin on the Roman mythological concept of the genius loci (guardian spirits of a particular city or village). “It’s set in a New York in which each of the boroughs is represented by a protective ‘avatar.’ It’s a really engaging concept that really digs into the city’s culture. Another really exciting modern author in the genre is Rebecca Roanhorse, who blends together indigenous and science fiction themes. It can be really fascinating to watch the way she combines them, because so many tales of space exploration are necessarily also stories of colonization.”
For younger readers, Coutu suggests Interstellar Pig by William Sleator.
Coutu’s own interest in the genre started around the age of 11, around the time of the release of Star Trek: The Voyage Home. He quickly discovered the close knit community of “Trekkies” that have formed around the franchise, cementing his interests.
“In those days, Star Trek was just starting to develop an online presence,” he said. “There were a number of ‘play-by-email’ games in which Trekkies across the country would play as their favorite characters.”
That community is a key feature of outings like the cruise.
“It’s a lot of the same kind of fun you’d find at a convention, but you get more of a chance to interact with people,” he said. “You’re staying right next to them, eating in the same restaurants, going to the same events, activities, and shore outings - and that includes the cast members and celebrity guests. It’s really a unique experience to get to see just how normal these people are.”
One such celebrity interaction made quite an impression on Coutu’s travel companion.
“My partner, Jeff, isn’t a huge fan of the show himself,” Coutu says, jokingly referring to him as a member of SPOT - “Spouses and Partners Of Trekkies.” Nevertheless, one chance encounter on deck proved especially memorable. “He stepped out from a party one night and chanced into Anthony Rapp,” Coutu said. Rapp played Commander Stamets in Star Trek: Discovery. “Jeff was absolutely thrilled because he remembered Rapp from Rent, so they spent a long time chatting about that.”
Coutu has had quite a few celebrity experiences of his own, including Johnathon Frakes (another actor with a cardboard cutout in the library director’s office).
“I’ve been working on getting the signatures for my Next Generation poster over the course of these cruises,” he said, holding up an almost completed poster. “Although there are a few that I don’t expect I’ll ever collect, like Sir Patrick Stewart or Whoopi Goldberg.”
In the off chance that the stars are loyal Warwick Beacon readers, we’ll be happy to pass the request along.
Coutu himself is ready to ‘boldly go’ on next year’s Star Trek cruise, scheduled to visit Aruba and Cabo, among other destinations. For those looking to explore the final frontier on their own, Coutu recommends checking a telescope out of the library.
“Science has a unique attraction to all of use, regardless of age,” he said. “Everyone is curious about how things work, everyone is curious about where we are in the universe. We’re excited to offer telescope rentals to try to get kids excited about space, and we’ll have a few suggestions for astronomic events and good times for stargazing coming up.”