“Until quite recently, spider silk had the highest tensile strength of any substance known to man, and the name Silksteel pays homage to the arachnid for good reason.”
— Commissioner Pravin Lal, “U.N. Scientific Survey”
In the game, Silksteel Alloys is labeled as a fourth-tier economic technology, requiring Advanced Subatomic Theory and Industrial Automation to research. It allows the faction who has it to produce units with the powerful Silksteel Armor defense. And it’s introduced to us by Commissioner Lal with a pretty straightforward quote. From the perspective of the player, that’s nice because it makes it pretty clear what exactly this futuristic tech is and why someone would want to research it, neither of which are obvious a priori.
But, from our perspective, there are a few deeper patterns that become apparent through more careful study. First, it is worth noticing that the game consistently associates materials science breakthroughs with defensive upgrades for military units. The previous defense upgrades were Synthmetal, unlocked by the Industrial Base technology, and Plasma Steel, which was made possible through High Energy Chemistry. And now we have Silksteel.
This is pretty clever on Reynolds’s part. It was theoretically possible for him to use any future-magic explanation for increasing unit defenses. But by consistently tying it to armor that is made possible by increasingly sophisticated materials science, it enables the bootstrapping of the player’s intuition out into the future. The player doesn’t need to know exactly what Silksteel is made out of in order to understand what it is and how it might affect the lives of the colonists on Planet.
Second, it’s also worth taking note of the fact that Reynolds chose Lal to introduce this technology. As we’ve seen, Brother Lal is the one character whose perspective is closest to the player’s presumed background. Even if the player disagrees with Lal ideologically, he’s still the one character that’s constantly reaching back to connect the present happenings in the Alpha Centauri system to Earth history. Which, naturally, means that he’s also reaching back to touch base with the player himself, drawing on analogies that he will understand as well as Lal’s presumed futuristic audience.
Finally, and most intriguingly, we learn that the alien ecosystem doesn’t include anything like a spider. So far, we have seen evidence of multi-colored fungus, fruit, small insects, and birds. And, of course, psychically active worm boils. But it seems that they don’t have spiders. Nor anything else that secretes a substance with the tensile strength of spider silk. Which is another small hint that the new Planet’s ecosystem is significantly simpler than that of Earth’s.