It turns out that the works of literature and entertainment that are the most useful for understanding what is lurking in your society's collective gut aren't the great works, or even those produced by authors with an excellent ability to write diverse (in the old sense of the word, not the kind that 'is our strength') characters coupled with superb world building. It's not even the authors who are skilled in using fiction as a way to explore ideas and the consequences of their application.
Rather, it is the mediocre to poor authors who nevertheless sell tons of books that best serve this purpose. Your shades of grey, or twilights, or malnutrition for fun and profit, or even your tales about zombies are what shed light down into the recesses of the oversized societal gut. You see, no particular reason is required to explain the success of a work by an author like Stirling. But when fair to middling stuff rises like a meteor, there's really only one explanation. It has resonated with something in that collective gut. Something we know, but feel constrained in the public expression thereof. Often something damnably simple, like women like dangerous, high-status men who have substantial capability and propensity for violence and who will present a traditional image of masculine power. Or something like, our system is not long for this world and our elites set us against each other for some of the remaining scraps. Or perhaps that our system can't be sustained much longer and we are very conflicted about the struggle that must erupt from the thin veneer when EBT stops working.
Why have Europeans dominated global exploration?
15 minutes ago