The mythos of the American West, as regulars here have heard me preach, is a very bad analogy for anything we can plausibly expect to happen in space over the next few centuries. Grubstake miners in the asteroid belt, sodbusters on Mars, and train robbers waiting at the Lagrange Pass for the 4:58 to Titan all differ only slightly in their quotients of probability, and all are very close to zero.
Given worlds enough and time, some civilization may come along that takes Dodge City as its cultural inspiration, but just as in the long gone days of Trek TOS, that is really only good for one episode.
Yet as regulars here also know, I was a fan and advocate of Firefly, which served up Western mythos in straight shots. It even got away with old fashioned Injuns, the Reivers, as incurably savage and implacably hostile as Lakota Sioux in 1950s Westerns. No one was going to smoke a peace pipe with them, and no tears would be shed over wiping out as many of them as possible. One dimensional natives remain alive and well in Hollywood - even, as Avatar showed, when filmed in 3-D.
The tension between Realism [TM] and Romance is is not a problem over on the fantasy shelves. Not many people trouble themselves to explain how dragons might really be possible. Only a few authors have framed fantasy-esque settings within an SF structure, with Anne McCaffrey the most familiar example: Pern is hardly less likely than any other colony planet.
It is not even really a problem in the various retro-future genres that have sprung up - if I want to have a steampunk alt-future city with pneumatic subways, no one is going to point out that electric rail technology made them obsolete by 1888.
It is a problem, potentially, in one other branch of the great super-genre of Romance: mysteries. Mysteries have somewhat the same relationship to horror that SF has to fantasy. In both genres someone generally winds up dead, often in colorfully gruesome ways and with creepy psychosexual overtones. But while horror is unabashed in its supernaturalism and irrationalism, mysteries confront horror with rationalism in the person of the detective.
God, that sounds lit-critty. One swig of meta leads to another ...
In mysteries the confrontation of the rational and the magical is direct, if disguised, and as a result mysteries are a highly stylized form with conventions (in the literary, not fannish sense) that make those of SF look positively lax.
In SF we glide past those tricky questions on orbital trajectory, never having to fire our engines. There may be no stealth in space when it comes to scan technology, but there is plenty of literary stealth. By salting the text with convincing sounding bits and pieces, torch drives and laser apertures, we invite the reader to not notice all the implausibilities of the setting. Move along, move along, nothing to see.
And in space, moving along is wonderfully easy. You don't have to do a thing.
Related post: An Athenian counterpart to Marcus Didius Falco.
The image was snagged from this mystery oriented blog.