George R.R. Martin knows all the signs of Boba Fett Syndrome.
Named for the minor "Star Wars" character who fans demanded to know more about, Boba Fett Syndrome is most acute for any book or film series that has reached the level of phenomenon, when minutiae becomes major. For Martin, this has meant not just the usual demands for the next "A Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy novel (don't ask, he's still working on it), but constant letters and emails asking for information on everything from dragons to Aegon Targaryen's war against the Seven Kingdoms.
Martin's new book, released this week, is "The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones," 300 pages of back story and original artwork by the some of the world's top fantasy illustrators. He agreed to the companion volume in 2006 and expected it would take just a couple of years. Naturally, it took longer. He intended to write some brief text to accompany the drawings, but ended up setting down some 300,000 words, more than enough to make his editor's "head explode."
"It was bigger than I anticipated," he said during a recent telephone interview, acknowledging that "The World of Ice & Fire" might have delayed still further the next "Ice and Fire" novel. "I start these things that I think won't take much time and they grow and grow."
Martin said "The World of Ice & Fire" offers material already in the "Ice and Fire" series, material he has long worked out in his mind and on paper, but had never released, and material he invented entirely for the book, such as the section dedicated to lands on the other side of the Narrow Sea. (Fans of Tyrion Lannister, be advised: Martin includes little about the character he has called his favorite. He's saving that for future books).
Time spent working on "The World of Ice & Fire" also means time spent on publicity, and on Sunday the resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico came to New York and appeared before hundreds of fans at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y. Dressed all in black -- black corduroys, black shirt, and black vest set off by his white hair and beard -- he was interviewed on stage by Salon.com critic Laura Miller and responded to written questions from the audience.
Martin, 66, has completed five of seven planned novels: The most recent, "A Dance With Dragons," came out in 2011, the same year the Emmy-winning HBO adaptation "Game of Thrones" first aired. Martin said Sunday that one challenge is keeping track of so many characters and events spread out over thousands of pages. Like a filmmaker hiring a continuity director, he works with longtime "Ice and Fire" experts Elio M. Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, who run the fan site www.westeros.org and are credited as co-authors of the new book.
"They displayed, right away, an almost obsessive knowledge of my world. In fact, I had to alter my world because of that obsessive knowledge," Martin said, noting that they had caught errors in his work.
A native of Bayonne, New Jersey, Martin loved comic books and writing as a kid and by high school had won an award for a superhero story. He has been publishing books since the 1970s and began his "Ice and Fire" series in the 1990s, intending to write a trilogy.
During his telephone interview, Martin said some of his fondest early memories were of reading illustrated versions of "Treasure Island" and other classics and that he wanted "The World of Ice & Fire" to have a similar appeal. He admires the Kindle, but prefers reading on paper and thinks the new book is especially suited for its hardcover edition.
"My feeling was 'Let's make it a coffee table book and let's fill it with some great fantasy art by some of the top illustrators in the fantasy world,'" he said. "We're at a time in publishing history where you can have you stories in many different ways. But I'm still an old fart. I love a physical book."