Figurative language is language that is not literal. It describes using comparisons to give the reader a visual image.
One example of figurative language is personification, which is comparing something nonhuman to humans by describing it as human.
He would come up to me in the gloom and stand staring out of the great oval port, while the heavens crawled slowly around us as the ship turned over and over with the residual spin we had never bothered to correct. (p. 1)
In this case, the heavens are described as crawling when in fact they cannot literally crawl because they are not babies or people. There is another example of personification.
The Rubens engraving of Loyola seems to mock me as it hangs there above the spectrophotometer tracings. (ch 2)
These demonstrate the narrator’s imagination getting away from him.
Another kind of figurative language is a metaphor. A metaphor is an indirect comparison, saying that something is something else.
We set out to reach the Phoenix Nebula, we succeeded, and we are homeward bound with our burden of knowledge. I wish I could lift that burden from my shoulders, but I call to you in vain across the centuries and the light-years that lie between us. (ch 2)
The knowledge they have is not literally being carried, and cannot be lifted. It figuratively feels heavy.
Similar to a metaphor, a simile is a direct comparison using the words “like” or “as” instead of saying something is something.
Our ship fell toward this gigantic bull’s eye like an arrow into its target. (p. 3)
The “gigantic bull’s eye” is a metaphor, but the arrow is a simile.
You can read about figurative language here:
Quotes from here: http://www.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf