My last post, about the Inca nearly winning against the Spanish, got me thinking about times when history changed course. It's an old theme for me, but there are not many times when we can point to it clearly.
The loss of the Native American civilisations is one, though. What if smallpox hadn't ravaged them? It would have been very hard for Spain to defeat them then, and we'd now live in a world with distinct societies and religions in the Americas. Maybe not Inca, but their cultural descendants. A second occasion is the Battle of Tours in 732AD, when Charles Martel defeated the Islamic Caliphate and stopped forever its expansion into Europe. If he'd lost, and France had fallen, Rome would have been taken soon after and that might be the end for Christianity.
But then, we can always play 'what if'. Maybe the asteroid doesn't hit earth 65 million years ago, and dinosaurs evolve into birds before mammals can grow strong. The world now might be one of large flightless birds, small birds scavenging their eggs, and so on. You can play that game every time a species goes extinct, or a new one appears. History has only a few points when it might have changed in some fundamental way, but evolution has millions.
This gives huge opportunities to Sci-Fi writers, who invent new species every time they create a new world. So why not Fantasy?
We've got stuck in a rut. Non-humans are nearly always the same. Wise elves in the deep forests, grumpy dwarves under mountains, swarming goblins, dragons... seen it before. We've read those stories. Why not something new?
A species descended from birds, all twitch and quiver, who roost in great halls. Maybe creatures like fish which come onto land every few years to breed, and while there hold councils to decide whatever issues they have. If expanding human peoples build a town on the council grounds, whew, that would get nasty. What about a collective consciousness, like a vast plant that can bud off parts of itself to move around? Sci-Fi is comfortable exploring races like these. Fantasy should be too.