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"...science fiction is sort of like a sociological genome. It's a huge range of possible futures, most of them useless; some vital. You never really know in advance."
- Peter Watts

Barrier (Force Field)  
  Force-field fence.  

In this story, Heinlein explores the idea of a just society; what does that society do with people who refuse to follow the rules? People who refuse to abide by the Covenant are placed (willingly or not) in Coventry, a large area of the U.S. about the size of Montana to fend for themselves. Coventry is surrounded by an impenetrable force field called the Barrier.

MacKinnon peered out of a forward port of the big transport helicopter with repressed excitement in his heart. There! That must be it- that black band in the distance. The helicopter drew closer, and he became certain that he was seeing the Barrier- the mysterious, impenetrable wall that divided the United States from the reservation known as Coventry...

A tiny, bright dot appeared in the foot of the barrier opposite where they waited. It spread into a half circle across the lampblack nothingness. Now it was large enough for MacKinnon to see the countryside beyond through the arch it had formed. He peered eagerly.

From Coventry, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Not Known in 1940
Additional resources -

Another character adds:

'...I'm not a mathematical physicist, but I was always told that it was theoretically impossible to break the Barrier-that it was just a nothingness that there was no way to touch. Of course, you can fly over it, but even that is supposed to be deadly to life.'

This story is classic Heinlein; read it to get some of the basis for the socio-political climate in his future history series.

Compare to the Langston field from Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Coventry
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Coventry
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

Barrier (Force Field)-related news articles:
  - Virtual Fence To Be Tested This Month

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