The West is entering its final phase, like the fall of Rome or the Late Merchant Phase of the various Chinese empires. It is slowly grinding to a halt as the inevitable problems multiply, with no obvious will to counter the decline. One man dreams of humanity becoming a multiplanet species in the hope of preserving the basics of human knowledge through the coming dark ages. The Great Powers have turned inward, and there is little political will for further space exploration. Funding is minimal, and technological innovation has slowed dramatically. He uses his skills as a fighter to fund his dreams and is, for a time, the heavyweight champion. Using his notoriety, he slowly gathers friends, seeking to find those who can make the dream a reality. Manon, who claws her way up from nothing to wealth; Elizabeth, the miner turned politician; and others help fund the space project. They set up a foundation to search for scientific geniuses in the most unlikely places, looking for children who perhaps can make the journey into space possible, but it is not clear that Earth has any interest in returning to the high frontier.
Against a background of indifference, competing interests, and active discouragement, they do manage to establish small independent colonies on the moon and Mars; but the odds are great, protection is difficult, and long-term success is by no means assured. And there are malevolent forces moving in the world.