It's an Alien Invasion, sort of. Two separate star faring races (one extremely human looking, the other Methane Breathers who look like swamp gas) secretly patrol the Earth, mainly to make sure neither side establishes military bases. Sort of an intersteller Cold War with the human race as hostage. Both sides hope that eventually Earth will become useful.
If a patrol ship crash lands on Earth the procedure is simple: ditch the ship in a deserted area, destroy as much of it as you can, get away from the area as quickly as possible and don't expect to be rescued, because no one will come for you.
The survivors of one such hard landing scatter and try to lose themselves inside humanity and are more or less successful. For 30 years 4 aliens blend into American life (occassionally being mistaken for Russian deserters) until one of them is found dead on a Chicago train track and he is autopsied. His internal organs are not "standard" by any means. The resulting investigation gains the attention of several very shadowy agencies.
Budrys sets up Hard Landing as an "investigative report" with himself as the investigator. As such the book is divided into sections made up of interviews with people who or may not have seen something and police reports. Through technology he does not explain, the author is able to extract information from persons long after they are dead. He calls these "reconstructions." Most of us call it "omniscient narrator."
Most of the action takes place in the late 1940's to early 50's and Budrys uses the presence of aliens in the United States to explain some of the odder occurences of recent history. The recurring theme is "this may be true, or it may be false: you have no way of knowing for sure."
Hard Landing is rather short, to Budrys' credit. He did not stoop to excess padding and exposition. Many questions are left unanswered and the result is curiously entertaining.
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