Here is another great British science fiction writer, underappreciated here though more well-known than Paul McAuley. Alastair Reynolds, like McAuley, was originally a working scientist (an astrophysicist) before becoming a science fiction writer in the hard SF/space opera mode.
Reynolds is an excellent writer (if not quite as good as McAuley) and staggeringly imaginative. He burst onto the scene with his mind-blowing Revelation Space series Here's the description of the series from Wikipedia:
The Inhibitor trilogy starts off a bit slowly in the first volume but hits its stride in the second and third volumes. Highly recommended, though probably the best book in the series is not part of the trilogy: Chasm City. Here's a description:The Revelation Space series includes five novels, two novellas, and eight short stories set over a span of several centuries, spanning approximately 2200 to 40 000, although the novels are all set in a 300-year period spanning from 2427 to 2727. In this universe, extraterrestrial sentience exists but is elusive, and interstellar travel is primarily undertaken by a class of vessel called a lighthugger which only approaches the speed of light (faster than light travel is possible, but it is so dangerous that no race uses it). Fermi's paradox is explained as resulting from the activities of an inorganic alien race referred to by its victims as the Inhibitors, which exterminates sentient races if they proceed above a certain level of technology. The trilogy consisting of Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap (the Inhibitor trilogy) deals with humanity coming to the attention of the Inhibitors and the resultant war between them.
Other excellent novels by Reynolds include Pushing Ice, Century Rain, House of Suns and The Medusa Chronicles (with Stephen Baxter). He is also superb at shorter lengths; he has produced an amazing number of high quality short stories, novelettes and novellas. A good place to sample these wares is the recent collection Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds.British author Reynolds transmutes space opera into a noirish, baroque, picaresque mystery tale. Honor requires that Tanner Mirabel, a weapons specialist/bodyguard, track down and destroy the man who killed his boss. Tanner's pursuit takes him to the planet Yellowstone, where a nano-plague has mutated the glittering human cultural showcase of Chasm City into something bizarre, dark and extremely dangerous. He's aided or threatened or both, at different times by a host of human and not-quite-human characters. Relying on his own combat skills and hard-boiled attitude, Tanner keeps seeking revenge even though he begins to wonder why he's doing it, especially after intrusions of other people's memories lead him to suspect he's not who he thinks he is. Inventiveness and tone are Reynolds's strong points. Presented in a sustained burst of weirdness, the novel's details are consistently startling but convincing in context, and the loose ends eventually tie neatly together. The narrator's tough-guy stance works too, both as an expression of Tanner's personality and as a defensive reaction to the setting's intimidating strangeness. Think of a combination of the movie Blade Runner and one of Jack Vance's ironic SF adventure novels.
Really, it's hard to go wrong with this guy. If you like SF but don't know Reynolds' work, time to jump in! You won't be sorry.