Flipping through racks of magazines and novels that portray Kirk and Spock as homosexual lovers, a woman smartly dressed in a suit coat asked, "Don't you have anything new since last summer?"
"Well, you might try this," said the merchant at this weekend's Star Trek convention at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn. "It just came out."
A passage in one book reads, "Spock was smiling openly, desire in the dark eyes, and Kirk melted into his embrace. He kissed the Vulcan passionately, without restraint."
The world of Star Trek erotica -- consisting of sexually explicit "fanzines" that depict the show's characters as lovers reaching for the stars -- is nothing new. Sexually oriented Star Trek books have been around for about 20 years.
"They're an alternative. They're like adult romance novels, done for the love of Star Trek," said Darlene Croon of Miami, who looked through the explicit material. "Star Trek is a fantasy, like these books are. My husband's into sports. I'm into Star Trek."
But the material, which often contains graphic descriptions of Kirk having sex with Spock and other aliens, evokes strong responses on both sides from some Trekkers.
Some -- including a few of the show's original actors -- argue that the loose-leaf novels and accompanying photographs are in bad taste and should be banned. Others say the erotic medium is a spinoff of a cult science-fiction show that they say expanded the boundaries of imagination.
"There's a real market for what we sell," said Lois Bennett, a dealer selling the books at Saturday's convention. "Most of our customers are females who are 30 and over, who are married with kids," she said.
The material is marked "Adults Only," but one man said Friday that his child had begun leafing through a sexually explicit magazine. The merchants say that never happened and that the conventions are attended largely by adults.
"These kinds of materials aren't unique, and neither are criticisms of them," said Sandy Zier of Elkridge, an organizer at the Hunt Valley convention. Paramount Pictures, the producer of the Star Trek series, has threatened in the past to get cease-and-desist orders against the explicit material, Ms. Zier said.
"It's not a massive print run, usually no more than 500 copies of any book," Ms. Zier said. "It would cost them too much to fight it."
Ms. Zier said she was satisfied that the merchants were responsible and were selling the material only to adults.
Almost all of the people at the convention Saturday were adults.
Thousands of fans who visited could find the magazines and books at a few of the display stands. Among them are "Ice-Fire," "The Naked Times" and "The Way Home," all of which sell for $10 or $20.
"I find it highly distasteful and in bad taste. They turn Kirk and Spock into lovers. . . . It's pornography, but it's protected by free speech," said Randolph Gallagher, who was selling collectible swords and "funky alien T-shirts" at a nearby display.
He readily acknowledges, though, that "if people didn't buy it, then people wouldn't make it. That's what a product is all about, whether it's Star Trek or not."
Pat Betz, sitting at her toy display, said she didn't approve of the sexy books and magazines but that it would be wrong to ban them.
"If you ban it here, you've got to ban it in the bookstores. It's no worse than Playboy or Penthouse, and they don't ban those," Ms. Betz said.
"Anyone can walk into a bookstore and buy an adult book. The only difference with these is they have Star Trek characters."
The conventions -- three of which are held at the Hunt Valley Marriott every year -- are where Trekkers come from around the country to buy memorabilia and merchandise. Plastic star ships, posters, space-age jewelry and even Vulcan ceremonial headdresses can be bought.
"Fanzines," even sexually oriented ones, are just another way that Trekkers fulfill their desire for memorabilia, said a merchant selling such products. She declined to give her name.
"Star Trek's philosophy is based on IDIC -- or Infinite Diversity and Infinite Combinations," she said. "These books are unusual; they're weird. But that's what Star Trek fans are all about."