I think Gee deserves some credit for trying to imagine explanations for the phenomena of Tolkien's world, but unfortunately he seems to have spent more time lining up promoters of his book (lots of back-slappers in the early pages) than reviewers, at least of the physics. I would have thought that an editor at Nature would have a few contacts willing to spend a few hours looking for bloopers.
Here are the ones I noticed:
- In "The Eyes of Legolas Greenleaf", Gee discusses the difference in visual capabilities between elvish eyes and human eyes, as revealed in a few incidents of the LoR. Most of this is interesting. It is a bit flawed by his mistake that the way to explain the difference between human and elvish visual acuity is in the difference in FOCAL LENGTH. He asserts that the focal length of elvish eyes must be greater than that of human eyes, in order to give greater magnification. However, if this were true, elvish eyes would have to larger (longer) by a factor of about 12x60/8 = 90, and so would elvish heads. This would really distort the story! A more promising place to look would be in a greater density of rods & cones in the eye, although a factor of 90 is still pretty challenging.
- "In the Laboratory of Feanor", Gee speculates that the mechanism of the Palantiri (crystal balls for remote viewing & communication) could be explained by quantum entanglement: a remote linkage among the Palantiri which causes each one of them to reflect the state of the others. It sounds really cute, but unfortunately it is too cute: It is one of the interesting facts about quantum entanglement that it can be used to correlate statistical results at two ends, but that this correlation can only be verified after the data are brought together. Quantum entanglement cannot be used to send information (such as a signal): if it could, this would enable a violation of causality, within the context of special relativity, TODAY, even before anyone gets around to making crystal balls out of it!
Actually, I don't know why Gee is working so hard on this one: Given that we have telecommunications devices today, and long-life batteries, it is not much of a stretch to imagine a technology that would carry signals for Palantiri. The main issue seems to be the user interface: How do I impose my will on its display? Quantum entanglement won't help on that, either.
- As Jay Moore points out in another review, there is a problem in "Giant Spiders and 'Mammoth' Oliphaunts": I think the source of the problem is that Gee's using M to denote mass when he's thinking about size, which should be proportional to the 3rd-root of mass. But he's not consistent, so it screws up all his equations. Anyway, his argument on metabolism is generally unclear: He should have looked at D'Arcy Thompson's "On Growth and Form" to find out how to do these sorts of calculations intelligibly.
Basically, Gee's background seems to be in evolutionary zoology, not in physics, so one should perhaps be a bit forgiving about mistakes. However, as someone well-connected in the realm of scientific writing, he should not have too many difficulties in finding someone more competent to spend a few hours to find mistakes at this level; so one should not be TOO forgiving!
Oh, well, it's still fun. The single best section, in my opinion, is the attempt to explain how mithril could be so light and still be able to hold back the spear of a troll. An obvious omission would be some speculation on the nature of the capabilities of the wizards: Are they purely supernatural, or is some technological component worth considering? Of course, we know that Saruman had technological interests - but what about Gandalf?