I'm wondering what the market for LDS science fiction is like at this moment. I've heard that there isn't any, that while LDS audiences do enjoy mainstream sci fi and LDS books as separate genres, they don't want them combined. Is this true? If it is, could it change in the near future?
I guess what I'm really asking is, should I hope to publish the space opera that I'm currently working on which uses Book of Mormon themes? Or should I abandon my labour of love and turn instead to romance and/or mystery, although I'm secretly wondering if the market for those two genres is not slowly becoming glutted?
Is there such a thing as LDS sci-fi/fantasy, otherwise known as speculative fiction? The answer is a definite Maybe.
Clean Speculative Fiction: If you mean are LDS readers interested in these genres and themes, the answer is a resounding YES! With the national speculative fiction market becoming more and more saturated with sex and violence and the occult, the LDS reader is having a more difficult time finding "safe" books to read. There is definitely a market for clean, non-graphic, clear-cut 'good vs evil and good wins' stories.
LDS Publishers of Speculative Fiction: If you mean do LDS publishers accept and publish speculative fiction, the answer is also yes, but it is not quite so resounding. A few current examples: James Dashner's YA fantasy series (CFI); Stephanie Black's futuristic The Believer (Covenant); Obert Skye's fantasy Leven Thumps (Shadow Mountain).
I think that the future will see more speculative fiction available through LDS publishers. This genre really lends itself to teaching thinly disguised correct principles and moral values in a non-preachy way. It also lets us take a good hard look at ourselves and our society without being overtly offensive or ruffling too many feathers. And the basic fantasy plot line is one we as LDS people believe in--the little guy learns of his own unique, usually divinely bestowed powers (often connected to birthright or high moral character) and uses those powers to champion over evil. We love this archetype. It's repeated over and over in our scriptures. My company would love to find some good manuscripts in this area.
Mixing Speculative Fiction with LDS Culture: If you mean can you openly place LDS theology and culture in a fantasy or occult setting and have it published by LDS publishers and enjoyed by LDS readers, the answer is NO. (Futuristic setting is probably okay.) You cannot have bishops performing magic and you can't baptize a vampire family. You can't have the angel Moroni come down to teach a young woman with special powers how to part the Red Sea with her magic wand. Even Orson Scott Card, an incredibly gifted writer of speculative fiction, offended lots of LDS readers with his Alvin Maker series and his Homecoming Saga (loosely based upon the life of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, respectively).
This type of treatment is highly offensive to many LDS readers. For this reason alone, it is not a cost-effective area for the LDS publisher. Take into account the fact that many LDS publishers are also personally offended by this mix and the probability of getting it published is reduced even more. I don't know of a single LDS publisher who would touch it with a 10 foot pole. Will it change in the future? Well, you never know who will hang a shingle and be willing to try it. But I can safely say that my company would never, ever consider it. Now, we might consider something along the lines of the Magic Treehouse or the Good Times Travel Agency Series for children, but it would have to be handled very carefully.
So, about your space opera. I can't speak to that directly because I haven't read it. Book of Mormon themes are probably okay. Nephi's descendents preaching to Lamanites on Pluto, probably not. You'll have to make your own best judgment on that and see what happens.
Glutted Market: The reason the market seems to be glutted with LDS romance and mystery is because that's what the readers want--and I don't see it slowing down soon. I have several friends who are romance junkies who would buy and read 1 or 2 new LDS romance novels a week if that many were available. (That's 104 romance novels a year. I don't think the combined LDS publishing industry is producing that many yet.)
These friends also complain that there are not enough quality LDS romances out there. They read what's published because they're clean and safe, but they yearn for more top-notch writing. So I'd say if you lean that direction, and you can create a solid, quality, well-written manuscript, give it a try. There will be a place for it. Same for the mystery and suspense.
But if your heart is in speculative fiction, don't let go of that dream. Keep working on it. And if the LDS publishing market isn't quite ready for your masterpiece, take out the overt LDS references and go for national. The national speculative fiction market is going gang-busters right now. And despite what you see on the shelves, I really believe there is a demand for clean speculative fiction and it's just a matter of time before some smaller publishers step up and fill that need.