Or perhaps more aptly, first buds that may eventually lead to fruit. Three years ago Neil Stephenson published a short essay on Innovation Starvation, pointing out how the vast majority of new science fiction stories published today is dystopian, which is leading to a lack of vision amongst our scientists and engineers, as well as those who fund them. Hmm, well, given that the last Space Shuttle mission had landed just a few months earlier and with the only U.S. manned space capability still in the early stages of development hell (now in the throws of a full-blown case of it), I believe he has a point.
So without typing too much longer (kind of hard on the right shoulder), there's a new science fiction collection edited by Stephenson that seems to be a good first step on the road back to hard sci-fi optimism: Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future. That *plonk* noise you just heard was the sound of a hardback copy going into my shopping cart. BTW, here's the Hieroglyph project's site, and a BBC article on the entire endeavor where you can read more. I really can't type much more right now.